In Open Access Fiber networks, the same physical network infrastructure is utilized by multiple providers delivering services to subscribers. The Open Access business model has been drawing attention globally as governments and municipalities find the concept of offering competition between providers and the freedom of choice for the subscriber is essential. It has also proved to be a feasible way to connect rural areas where service providers might have a hard time generating enough revenue to justify investing in their own network infrastructure.
Open access fiber networks can be the foundation for distributed healthcare, 5G, and resilient, modernized infrastructure—including responsible energy creation and secure community smart grids.
For subscribers to benefit from the freedom of choice and competition between providers that are delivering services using the same network infrastructure they will need a comprehensive way to browse the assortment of services offered.
Open Access network operators must keep track of:
- Every single subscriber in the network, their physical address, their “technical address” (switch, switch port, etc.).
- Which services they are buying from which provider/s.
- The total number of customers and/or services bought if you’re operating in a three-layer model where you have to report back to the network owners how their network is utilized.
Already common in Europe with Sweden as the best known example, open access networks are just beginning to gain market traction in the U.S. While U.S. community-wide network operators like SiFi Networks and UTOPIA Fiber (Utah) have adopted a wholesale-like business model, newcomer Underline is taking a bit more of a direct approach.
“When people say open access in this country, they typically mean ISPs can come in and lease fiber and choose to build a given neighborhood that hasn’t been overbuilt yet. We mean something very different,” Underline CEO Robert Thompson told Fierce Telecom. “We are not a wholesale leaser of fiber. We are the fiber network literally to the doorbell.”
Underline isn’t just providing physical fiber-to-the-home infrastructure, but also a unified billing system and cybersecurity layer. The latter will allow the communities it serves to deploy smart city applications over an on-demand Layer 2 (Data Link layer) connection that will never touch the Layer 3 (Network layer) public internet, Thompson said.
“On the one hand, we directly face consumers and businesses, schools and so forth and we provide them network access connectivity and technology for a monthly connection fee. On the other hand, we look like a network infrastructure-as-a-service provider to the ISPs or content community,” Thompson said.
“We don’t provide IP,” he continued. “We’re going to move your traffic from your house ultrafast over fiber and we’re going to hand off you and your traffic to the internet service provider of your choosing. That ISP is then your IP, the routing of your traffic. They’re connecting you to that glorious world wide web,” he added.
Thompson said Underline will charge users directly on a monthly basis for connectivity, with their chosen ISP getting a portion of that cost. So, for instance, in the case where a subscriber takes a $65 per month symmetric gigabit plan, the ISP will get a $15 cut. Underline also plans to charge licensing and per subscriber fees for use of its technology stack.
Underline is now initiating construction in its first market: Colorado Springs, CO. The company will offer residential speeds up to 10 Gbps and enterprise service up to 100 Gbps, with qualifying households eligible to receive a discounted rate on Underline’s bottom tier symmetrical 500 Mbps plan.
The project will be completed in several stages, with a Phase I build set to connect 24,000 homes and 4,000 businesses with 225 route miles of fiber plant. Initial customers will include the the National Cybersecurity Center, the new Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center and Altia Software.
Thompson says that Phase II will cover roughly the same amount of ground and Underline also has a build agreement with an unnamed city “immediately surrounding” Colorado Springs. Taken together, construction in both phases and the second city will amount to “an exercise of approximately $125 million in total capital.”
“We are after this with a vengeance, and we are very thankfully supported by very strong capital,” Thompson said, noting a “drumbeat of steady announcements of drills in the dirt in new communities” is on the way.
Thompson said Underline is targeting communities with populations between 20,000 and 750,000. He noted that such communities have “historically been basically ignored by the incumbents (large telcos) and which by and large will not qualify” for federal support for broadband deployments.
Beyond that, he said Underline’s market assessments include factors like demand point density per fiber route mile, a population productivity ratio, a competition index and a social equity analysis. The latter is a key priority for Underline and “part of our social purpose,” Thompson explained.
“We want to understand and we actually want to target communities that have a significant portion of their demand points that have no internet at all or very poor internet at home because of socio economic status. This country’s got to have internet that’s fast, affordable and fair,” he concluded.
Comcast Business today announced a two-year $28 million project to expand its network across four Mid-Atlantic states is well underway, touting it as part of an effort to bring 1 to 100Gbps service to thousands of additional enterprises in the region.
Once completed, Comcast Business will have committed a total of more than $110 million in area network expansions since 2015, to benefit nearly 35,000 of the region’s largest companies and organizations.
The operator said that work is focused on deploying new and densifying existing fiber across parts of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. Approximately $13 million was already invested in the extensions in 2020, with an additional $15 million set to be spent this year to deliver service to a total of nearly 7,000 new businesses.
The network expansion delivers speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for small and medium-sized businesses and up to 100 Gbps for larger enterprises and will support the ability to bring new customers online quickly with advanced services, including fast business Wi-Fi for employees and guests, cybersecurity solutions, 4G LTE backup, business TV and more. Additionally, businesses of all sizes now will have access to a comprehensive portfolio of Comcast Business products and services to help meet the day-to-day demands that require large amounts of bandwidth, linking multiple sites or branch locations or connecting offices to third-party data centers.
The latest expansion deploys new fiber optic cable or densifies existing fiber services across the following areas:
- Delaware: Georgetown, Ocean View, Rehoboth Beach and Smyrna
- Maryland: Eastern Shore, Frederick and Montgomery County
- Virginia: Ashburn, Dulles, Harrisonburg, Leesburg, Lynchburg and Richmond; planned investments include Front Royal, Tysons Corner and Warrenton
- Washington, D.C.
- West Virginia: Huntington and Martinsburg
“Comcast’s infrastructure investment in Virginia supports our business community and helps us attract new businesses to the Commonwealth,” said Brian Ball, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade.
Ed Rowan, senior director of Comcast Business Sales Operations in the Beltway Region, said in a press release:
“The ability to offer both diversity of network and carrier is becoming increasingly important to help drive economic development and transformation. Connectivity is at the core of this and, more than ever, is an integral factor as businesses expand and prepare for what’s next. Our network expansions across Comcast’s Beltway Region are the latest example of the significant technology investments we’ve made to increase the availability of our multi-Gigabit Ethernet services. These investments will help foster economic development, transform our local communities, and better meet next-generation capacity needs across the region.”
Comcast’s vast and growing fiber footprint spans 29 regional networks in 39 states and includes:
- An enhanced fiber optic network, with more than 150,000 miles of fiber, that provides high- speed, high quality, and high-definition services to a number of large companies
- A support structure made up of thousands of professionals with the knowledge and experience to handle any situation
- MEF-certified carrier class Ethernet that delivers standardized, scalable, and reliable Metro Ethernet solutions – at a service and hardware level
Comcast’s nationwide fiber optic network:
Orange’s new 10Gbps fiber access will be at Love Total Plus and Love Total Plus 4 rates for residential customers, and at Love Empresa 3 and 5 rates for freelancers and small businesses. Adopting this speed will mean an increase of 10 euros /month on the price of the same.
In the 10Gbps offered by Digi, only 8Gbps was obtained, and it is expected that in the case of Orange it might be similar. It remains to be seen, what actual performance it offers.
India based telecom equipment company STL (Sterlite Technologies Limited) has launched Accellus, its flagship solution for 5G-ready, open and programmable networks. This new product line raises the position of STL as a provider of disruptive solutions for Access and Edge networks. For the past 5 years, STL has been investing in research and development to expand its capabilities in converged networks based on fiber optic broadband and Open RAN.
India’s PLI Scheme
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents service providers and network equipment vendors, said that the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme will boost local manufacturing, exports and also create employment opportunities. STL plans to take advantage of that initiative. Nokia (through its India subsidiary) said the guidelines were an encouraging initiative by the government towards making India a global manufacturing hub. “Nokia is committed to this vision with our Chennai factory that manufactures telecom equipment from 2G to 5G-making for India and the world.”
“India is already the second largest telecom market globally and this will go a long way in making the country a global hub for telecom innovation,” said SP Kochhar, director general, COAI.
STL’s Accellus is built on this industry-leading converged optical-radio architecture. The company expects the global adoption of this decision to accelerate at a rate of 250% on an annual basis, stimulating better TCO for customers and gross margin for shareholders. Accellus will allow four main benefits for network builders – scalable and flexible operations, faster time to market, lower TCO and greener networks.
Accellus will lead the industry’s transition from tightly integrated, proprietary products to neutral and programmable converged wireless and optical networking solutions. It offers wireless and fiber-based solutions:
1. 5G multiband radios: Exhaustive portfolio of RAN radios with single and multiband macro radios. Co-developed in partnership with Facebook Connectivity to build total availability for Open RAN-based radios
2. Internal small cells: O-RAN compliant, highly efficient internal 5G small cell solution, with level 1 edge treatment
3. Wi-Fi 6 access solutions: Outdoor Wi-Fi 6 solutions providing carrier-class public connectivity in dense environments
4. Intelligent RAN Controller (RIC): An Open RAN 5G operating system that allows the Open RAN ecosystem to use third-party applications to improve performance and save costs
5. Programmable FTTx (pFTTx): A complete solution that offers programmability and software-defined networks in large-scale FTTH, business and cellular sites (FTTx) networks
Commenting on the launch of Accellus, Philip Leidler, Partner and Consulting Director, STL Partners, said: “One of the goals of the O-RAN alliance was to expand the RAN ecosystem and encourage innovation from a wider base of technology companies worldwide. the message is the last indication that this goal has been achieved. “
Commenting on the launch of Accellus, Chris Rice, CEO of Access Solutions at STL, said: “Disaggregated 5G and FTTx networks based on open standards are becoming more common for both greenfield and brownfield deployments. These networks will require unprecedented scalability and flexibility, possible through an open and programmable architecture. STL’s Accellus will unlock business opportunities for our customers and provide a immersive digital experience worldwide.”
Optical fiber has evolved in its maturity and in its form factors to drive the infrastructure medium for the “wireline” side of the network. It continues to be the preferred medium for high-speed network delivery, Rice said.
Answer: “Upgrade the network backhaul and core IP infrastructure for the expected growth in bandwidth that 5G Applications will enable. The necessity of wireline 5G upgrades sometimes does not get the attention it deserves; this includes IP equipment (e.g. cell site routers) and the necessary fiber upgrades to the cell sites.
Perform the network planning for the new cell site builds required to get the coverage and capacity required for ubiquitous 5G at the speeds users expect. For 5G to pay off for Telcos, there have to be new capabilities and services to sell that deserve higher price points from consumers and business users.
Ensure that operational automation is available to keep operating costs reasonable, especially as the number of cell sites grows. CAPEX is typically only 20 to 25% of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a RAN, meaning that operating costs are 3X to 4X what CAPEX is. The RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is an example in ORAN / Open RAN that helps Telcos fulfil this need in an open way. It is essentially the operating system for Open RAN. It provides a platform for third-party applications to deliver these operational benefits and automation.”
How Is STL Helping Industry Stakeholders to Explain to Government Officials the Importance of Fiber for 5G or High-Speed Broadband?
Answer: “Network speed in the RAN air interface is essentially meaningless without the ability to ensure that the connected IP network can backhaul the required bandwidth. This fact necessitates additional fiber deployments to the existing cell sites (where it does not exist) and to new cells sites.”
In conclusion, Rice opined, “Our (STLs) newest business unit, the Access Solutions BU, focuses on fiber broadband and 5G wireless products. These products are based on open networking principles and give STL the opportunity to participate in the disruption that is occurring in the open networking markets, like ORAN and Open RAN initiatives. While Access Solutions BU is new, it has an R&D and innovation heritage of almost four years. During that time, a top talent team has been put in place, fundamental technology and innovation have been developed and matured, and now a well-defined product roadmap has been put in place as the BU launches many new products in its Accellus product line.”
Start-up network operator IQ Fiber has received a majority investment from SDC Capital Partners, which also owns a 48% stake in Midwest fiber provider Allo Communications. The transaction provides IQ Fiber with significant equity funding to complete the first phase of its all-fiber network build, passing more than 60,000 homes in the Jacksonville area.
“Consumers deserve a smarter internet choice,” said IQ Fiber CEO Ted Schremp. “High-speed internet has become a necessity and is truly the heartbeat of the modern home. With the launch of IQ Fiber, Jacksonville residents will soon have access to a state-of-the-art, 100% fiber-optic network with gigabit upload and download speeds, simple subscription plans and service experts who live and work in our community.”
“We are thrilled to partner with IQ Fiber in its initial launch in Jacksonville and are excited about the larger opportunity in Northeast Florida and beyond,” said Clinton Karcher, partner at SDC. “IQ Fiber’s commitment to providing exceptional customer service, coupled with state-of-the-art fiber network infrastructure in an underserved market, creates a formula for success.”
IQ Fiber plans to offer simple month-to-month rates with no hidden fees, surcharges or surprise price increases. IQ Fiber’s three service plans will deliver symmetrical internet speeds between 250 and 1,000 Mbps, with whole-home Wi-Fi service always included.
Fiber to the home represents the state-of-the-art for the delivery of broadband services, yet it is accessible to only 36% of the U.S. population. Compounding the consumer challenge, approximately 83 million Americans can only access broadband through a single provider. With today’s announcement, Jacksonville will soon have the freedom to choose a 100% fiber-optic network with simple, no-hassle plans, supported by local experts.
Though its initial plan will see it offer service in Jacksonville starting in early Q2 2022, CEO Ted Schremp said the company is eyeing an opportunity to expand across at least four counties, including Duval (where Jacksonville is located), Clay, Nassau and St. Johns.
“That four county area represents an opportunity for us that is five times bigger than our initial Phase I build,” he said. “So we know we’ve got not just opportunity to get this first 60,000 that we’ve announced, but plenty of additional opportunity as we go forward just inside this little corner of Florida that’s growing as quickly as it is.”
The company is deploying an XGS-PON fiber network and plans to offer three service tiers with symmetrical speeds of 250 Mbps for $65 per month, 500 Mbps for $75 per month and 1 gig for $85 per month. Those prices include taxes as well as whole-home Wi-Fi, Schremp said. While it’s not alone in providing the latter, he pitched it as a differentiator for consumers who just want simplicity and a good customer experience. The company states on its website:
Our 100% fiber-optic network is built for the modern home. With symmetrical speeds, your entire can stream, game, and work from home all at the same time and it won’t slow you down.
“A gig to the side of your house is useless if you went to Best Buy and bought a router five years ago and are just bumping along, and the average consumer just really doesn’t know how to contend with that,” he said. “The reality is they’re looking at the service provider to solve that for them and certainly that’s good for us in terms of the management of churn and the delivery of the full speeds.”
More than anything, Schremp said IQ Fiber is “trying to be what the incumbents are not. The incumbents here are Comcast with their traditional HFC [hybrid fiber coax] service, AT&T with some fiber build and a lot of legacy DSL and we know it can be done better,” the CEO said. “We certainly know that consumers react positively to choice. They certainly are irritated by the practices of many of the incumbent providers. And we’re trying to deliver the converse of that.”
ADTRAN is positioning its acquisition of ADVA as building a complementary combination of assets that can better capitalize on what it sees as an unprecedented investment cycle in fiber. However, analysts argue that the new combined company would still be just a “niche player” in the market.
On Monday, ADTRAN wrote in an email to this author (and many others):
ADTRAN has entered into a business combination agreement with ADVA, a Germany-based global leader in business ethernet, metro WDM, Data Center Interconnect and network synchronization solutions, to combine our two companies.We believe our combination will create many opportunities to better serve end-to-end fiber networking solutions spanning metro edge, aggregation, access and subscriber connectivity. Additionally, we anticipate that by utilizing our collective world-class R&D teams, we will be better positioned to accelerate innovation and offer differentiated solutions.Going forward, it will be business as usual and all existing customer, partner and supplier relationships will remain intact. Until we receive all required regulatory approvals and close the transaction, ADVA and ADTRAN will continue to operate as separate companies. As we integrate the two companies, we will be focused on the best ways to offer our enhanced value proposition and partner with you.
Highlights of the Deal:
- Combination expands product offering and strengthens position as a global fiber networking innovation leader with combined revenue of $1.2B
- Highly complementary businesses create a global, scaled end-to-end provider to better serve customers with differentiated fiber networking solutions, spanning metro edge, aggregation, access and subscriber connectivity
- Creates a stronger and more-profitable company, poised to benefit from the unprecedented investment cycle in fiber, an expanded market opportunity and increased scale
- Meaningful value creation with over $50 million in annual run-rate cost synergies
- All-stock transaction with ADTRAN shareholders to own approximately 54% and ADVA shareholders to own approximately 46% of the combined company, assuming a tender of 100% of ADVA shares
- Combined company to be dual-listed on the NASDAQ and Frankfurt Stock Exchange
The two vendors produced a combined $1.2 billion in revenues last year. However, ADTRAN’s presentation in support of the deal showed that market heavyweights Nokia, Ciena, and smaller player Infinera had much higher revenues over that same time period.
“It’s not going to reshape the optical networking industry,” John Lively, principal analyst at LightCounting, told SDxCentral about the deal. “ADTRAN and ADVA are going to improve their position in combination, [but] don’t really threaten the large players.”
Companies that are potentially threatened by this deal are smaller competitors such as Infinera ($1.4 billion in 2020 revenues) and Calix ($500 million in 2020 revenues), Lively noted.
“The challenges pressured by the global pandemic have clearly shown that fiber connectivity has become an essential foundation for the modern digital economy,” ADTRAN Chairman and CEO Thomas Stanton explained to investors about the deal. “This transformation will significantly increase the scale of the combined businesses, enhancing our ability to serve as a trusted supplier to our customers and worldwide.”
Stanton added that “our combination will make us one of the largest western suppliers for the markets we serve. Our greater size will increase cross-selling opportunities to existing customers, accelerating our combined growth, and allowing us to further penetrate our target markets.”
Although ADTRAN will remain a mid-tier player after the deal closes, LightCounting’s Lively and Dell’Oro Group VP Jimmy Yu both think in general, “it’s a good move.”
Yu noted that industry mergers can destroy value if too many products and workforces overlap. But in this case, ADTRAN and ADVA are from adjacent markets of fixed access and optical layer, and both sides will help each other grow the product line, so “it seems like a complementary combined company that’s going to come out of this,” he added.
Jimmy had this general comment on optical network trends:
“Disaggregated DWDM systems outperformed the broader market, demonstrating the growing adoption of this platform type. Really what we see is that this type of platform architecture, where transponder units are independent of the line systems, is being more widely embraced beyond the Internet content providers. Also, it is no longer just for metro applications. Recently, the highest growth rates have been from long-haul applications,”
Lively noted that there is almost no overlap in the product line, and “for the networks, the two companies logically fit together [as] ADTRAN makes access to equipment and ADVA makes the gear that connects the access equipment to the core.”
“So if you are a smaller service provider, and you want to upgrade to 10 Gb/s internet service for your customers, you could potentially buy everything you need from the new ADTRAN, from the passive optical networking, all the way through to connect to the core,” he said.
Yu also mentioned that the deal will help increase the scale and diversity in products as ADTRAN will be able to offer access and a backhaul solution, especially in tier-two and tier-three markets where most service providers want to work with one solution company instead of multiple vendors.
“2022 should be positive for sales,” argued the analysts at WestPark Capital in a note to investors earlier this month, following the release of Adtran’s second quarter results.
The WestPark Capital analysts pointed out that ADTRAN stands to gain ground in part from government broadband funding, as well as moves by some American and European network operators away from China’s Huawei.
The Raymond James analysts concurred on the Huawei opportunity. “We believe that the Huawei backlash outside of China presents among the largest opportunities,” they wrote on Monday.
The combined company will maintain ADTRAN’s global headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama. It will maintain ADVA’s headquarters in Munich, Germany, as its European base. Currently, ADTRAN has a geographical revenue split of 74% in the Americas, 21% in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and 5% in Asia Pacific, while ADVA is split 62% in EMEA, 29% in the Americas, and 9% in Asia Pacific, according to Stanton.
The deal expands ADVA’s presence in North America and ADTRAN’s ability to reach the European market more effectively, Lively said. One of the drivers for this combination is “we see our customers making significant capital investments to transition their supply chains to trusted vendors with our roots in the U.S. and Germany, our company will be viewed favorably by customers who increasingly specify Western vendors,” Stanton explained.
“It’s kind of a race to build out their digital infrastructure to make the country competitive,” which presents a real opportunity for the new ADTRAN and also its competitors, Lively added.
Zayo Group Holdings today announced the planned deployment of 31 high capacity, 400G b/s enabled long haul routes across North America and Western Europe.
The availability of 400G b/s client-side wavelength capabilities will enable Zayo to deliver multi-terabit capacity across its underlying global network, enabling higher transmission rates, reduced cost per bit, increased data transfer speeds and significantly greater bandwidth capacity — key features that support enterprises on their digital transformation journeys. Up to 800G transmission will be available in select areas as Zayo deploys significant speed enhancements in anticipation of future network needs.
This optimized wavelength network is designed to provide a direct route for multi-cloud and multi-market connectivity, ideal for content providers, hyper-scalers, carriers and data centers. The upgrade will also enable reduced physical space requirements as well as reduced operation and maintenance costs resulting from a 40% reduction in power consumption.
The race to 400Gb/s has accelerated in recent years, with an increasing number of users, applications and devices driving exponential demand for increased bandwidth. Exceeding the current standard of 100G, Zayo’s new routes will provide a fourfold increase in maximum data transfer speed, supporting 5G technologies including Internet of Things, cloud-based computing, edge computing, virtual reality, high-definition video streaming and artificial intelligence.
“400G is rapidly becoming the prevailing requirement for networks and Zayo is breaking new ground with its 800G capabilities,” said Brian Lillie, Zayo Chief Product and Technology Officer. “This deployment underscores Zayo’s commitment to maintaining the leading edge of communications infrastructure and providing state-of-the art network solutions critical to our customers’ digital transformation journeys.”
About Zayo Group:
Zayo’s 126,000-mile network in North America and Europe includes extensive metro connectivity to thousands of buildings and data centers. Zayo’s communications infrastructure solutions include dark fiber, private data networks, wavelengths, Ethernet, dedicated internet access and data center connectivity solutions.
Zayo owns and operates a Tier 1 IP backbone and through its CloudLink service, Zayo provides low-latency private connectivity that attaches enterprises to their public cloud environments. Zayo serves wireless and wireline carriers, media, tech, content, finance, healthcare and other large enterprises. For more information, visit https://zayo.com
AT&T has experienced recent disruptions in the supply of fiber optic cable, which has caused the company to trim back its planned fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) buildout for 2021, according to senior EVP and CFO Pascal Desroches.
AT&T had previously said it would build out its fiber network to an additional 3 million homes passed this year. But that’s now been reduced by 1/2 million.
“Since the start of the third quarter, we are seeing dislocation across the board, including in fiber supply. We’re probably going to come in a little bit light of 3 million homes passed, probably around 2.5 million,” Desroches said Tuesday at the Oppenheimer Technology, Internet & Communications Conference, according to this transcript.
An AT&T technician working on a fiber project
Specifically, this is what Pascal said:
But since the start of the third quarter, we are seeing dislocation across the board, including in fiber supply. And as a result of those dislocations, we had previously provided guidance of 3 million homes past this year (unedited- very bad grammar). We’re probably going to come in a little bit in light of that, probably around 2.5 million. We don’t think it’s going to impact us long term. But I think it’s really important context because if we’re feeling the pain of this, I can only imagine what others in the industry are experiencing.
John Stankey (AT&T CEO) has always been a believer in fiber. I think when he took over he identified that as a priority area because he understood from a technology standpoint, there is no better technology for connectivity. And therefore, in a world where the demands for symmetrical speed are increasing significantly, this is the technology to bet heavily on. And so we have a great position, and we are leaning into adding to that position. So it’s really a function of when you — and I think others are now recognizing it as a result of what you’ve seen in the last year in the pandemic, the need to do what we’re doing now, 2-way communication can only happen with symmetrical speed. So I think everyone has had an aha moment, like we need to deploy fiber. And so we’ve long believed that. John has long believed that, and this is just really leading into that opportunity.
As we deploy fiber, our goal is to get at least 40% penetration on homes passed. And we think in certain markets, we’ll have an opportunity to do better than that. And the other thing that is great about is when you lay fiber, you lay fiber to a community where there is both homes and businesses. So it also helps boost returns in your enterprise business. And so that’s why it is so critical that we roll this out because the ability to grow both your enterprise and your consumer business is attractive. And we think these investments will provide us with mid-teen returns over time.
I know we’re largest fiber purchaser in the country. And we have prices that are at the best and most competitive among the industry. So we feel really good about the ability to secure inventory, fiber inventory and at attractive price points and the ability to execute and the build-out at scale, something that many others don’t have.
Oppenheimer moderator question: “Can you talk a little bit about where your supply comes from, I guess, both the fiber and the optical components or any other key suppliers? Is that U.S. sourced? Or is it a lot of it outsourced internationally?”
Pascal’s answer: “It is a U.S. company which has locations both domestically and outside the U.S.” [We suspect that it’s Corning].
AT&T typically has had no problem getting fiber at a low cost, Desroches said. “We’re the largest fiber purchaser in the country and we have prices that are the best and most competitive in the industry,” he said. “We feel really good about the ability to secure fiber inventory at attractive price points and the ability to execute the buildout at scale, something that many others don’t have.”
AT&T expects to catch up to its original fiber-construction estimates in the years after 2021, largely because of what Desroches called its “preferred place in the supply chain” and “committed pricing.” As AT&T said in a news release yesterday, AT&T is “working closely with the broader fiber ecosystem to address this near-term dislocation” and “is confident it will achieve the company’s target of 30 million customer locations passed by the end of 2025.”
AT&T added another 246,000 fiber broadband subs in Q2 2021, extending its total to 5.43 million, and said last month it was on pace to add about 1 million net fiber subscribers for all of 2021.
AT&T has estimated that nearly 80% of new fiber subscribers are also new AT&T customers, reversing a previous trend that saw a sizable portion of its FTTP customer net adds coming from upgrades of existing AT&T high-speed Internet customers on older VDSL and DSL platforms (which have been largely discontinued).
Speaking on AT&T’s 2Q-2021 earnings call last month, Desroches stated that the company’s consumer wireline business had reached a “major inflection point” as broadband revenues continue to surpass legacy declines. Meanwhile, AT&T’s broadband average revenue per user (ARPU) reached $54.76 in Q2 2021, improving from $51.61 in the year-ago period.
On August 5th, Frontier Communications announced an accelerated fiber optics buildout plan that will result in their fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network passing 10 million locations (homes/offices) by 2025. Frontier says they will end 2021 with 4 million locations passed by fiber and will then add another 6 million in a revised, multi-year “Wave 2” plan.
Nick Jeffery, President and Chief Executive Officer of Frontier, said, “The acceleration of our fiber network expansion is clear evidence that Frontier’s transformation is taking hold. Over the past several months, we’ve made real progress in executing our strategy – by adding world-class leadership, introducing a purpose-driven culture, improving the customer experience, and making our operations more efficient and sustainable.
“Demand for high-speed broadband is growing rapidly, and fiber is the best product to meet the needs of consumers and businesses. Frontier is already doing what customers want and cable can’t – delivering symmetrical download and upload speeds with far lower latency than our competition. Early next year, we will start delivering 2 gigabit per second services, further stretching our performance lead to where only fiber can compete. We have hard work ahead of us, but momentum is increasing as we rally the Frontier team around our mission to Build Gigabit America.”
Jeffery added, “Our second-quarter results reflect continuing momentum in our fiber expansion strategy, with all key fiber metrics in line or above expectations. In particular, we accelerated our fiber build out, continued our customer momentum with another strong quarter of consumer fiber net adds, and reduced our consumer churn. Taken together, it was another strong quarter that positions Frontier well as we head into the second half of the year.”
At its virtual investor day, Frontier provided an update on the fiber buildout and other priorities resulting from its strategic review. These include:
- Frontier’s current ability to provide a best-in-class offering featuring symmetrical 1 gigabit per second download and upload speeds;
- Plans to launch a symmetrical 2 gigabit per second offering in the first quarter of 2022 that will unlock next-generation digital experiences for customers;
- Plans to deploy fiber to reach 10 million locations by 2025; and
- A new target of $250 million run rate savings by 2023 from simplifying the Company’s operations and improving the customer experience.
Image Credit: Frontier Communications
Frontier also offered some revised predictions on service penetration, expecting them to be in the mid-teens to 20% at the end of year one, rise to 25% to 30% at the end of year two, and then on up to 45%. Frontier introduced new pricing for residential fiber broadband service, with entry-level service at 500 Mbit/s.
MoffettNathanson analyst Nick Del Deo (a colleague) wrote in a note to clients:
The single most important data points from today’s analyst day relate to Frontier’s FTTH deployment plans (Exhibit 1). For 2021, the company increased its expectation for new passings from 495K to >600K, which will complete “wave one” of its fiber upgrade project and leave it with ~4M total FTTH passings. Between 2022 and 2025, the company plans to build to another 6M passings, bringing its total to 10M, or about two thirds of its broadband-enabled locations. The remaining 5M, part of wave three, are currently in a holding pattern, with the company working through the optimal approach: do nothing, upgrade, upgrade with government assistance, divest, swap, or do something more creative that we haven’t come up with.
Image Credit: Frontier Communications
The company also announced it will start to introduce 2-Gig services over FTTP in early 2022, but didn’t disclose pricing.
Del Deo summarized his assessment of Frontier’s fiber buildout (emphasis added):
Frontier plans to build FTTH to 7M incremental homes through 2025, a rapid acceleration from its current pace. This will leave two thirds of its broadband-enabled footprint served by fiber, with the status of the remaining one third TBD. The deployment costs appear somewhat higher, and returns a bit lower, than what we would have expected, but we had haircut the value of its FTTH expansion in our prior work to account for such risks. The faster pace and certainty now reduce the need for such haircuts. The path to financing the build remains open, but the company will need at least a couple of billion dollars in fresh funding. It’s not clear to us that management’s optimism regarding the commercial unit is warranted, but time will tell whether it can engineer a turnaround.
Management has high hopes for the commercial part of its business, and we don’t doubt that growth can get better from where it is today, but we think this will continue to be a segment that weighs on the company’s overall results.
Light Reading’s Jeff Baumgartner opines that “Frontier’s accelerated FTTP buildout plan, revised pricing and plans for 2-Gig service should pressure cable competitors to match up with speeds and pricing. Frontier’s moves might also cause those cable operators to give more consideration to “mid-split” or “high-split” upgrades that dedicate more upstream capacity to their DOCSIS 3.1 networks, accelerate their pursuit of new DOCSIS 4.0 technologies, or shift to full FTTP upgrades in select areas.”