CenturyLink wants to become the premier U.S. fiber-based provider for business customers, according to Jeff Storey, CenturyLink’s president, CEO, and former Level 3 CEO. Storey pledged to continue to aggressively expand its fiber footprint because fiber, he said, will ultimately beat out all other connectivity options in terms of performance, especially for next-generation use cases that are happening at the edge of the network. Two such edge computing customer examples were given (see below).
“Expanding our fiber is a major area of focus for us … Fiber beats twisted pair copper, hybrid fiber coax, and it beats wireless, whether it’s 5G or not, fiber wins,” Storey told investors during the telecom’s Q2 2019 earnings call on Wednesday evening, August 7th. Fiber is one way that CenturyLink plans to boost its Enterprise and Small and Medium Business revenues, executives said. From the Century Link earnings call transcript, Storey said:
As I mentioned last quarter, we added 4,500 new fiber-fed buildings to our on-net footprint in the first quarter of 2019. We continued that focus in the second quarter with the addition of approximately 5,000 new fiber-fed buildings. For contrast, Level 3 used to add something closer to 500 buildings per quarter, so I want to emphasize expanding our fiber footprint is a major area of focus for us.
We know that when we have a building on-net, our fiber based services provide a better, more reliable, and higher margin solution than competing infrastructure. [indiscernible] wireless whether that’s 5G or not, fiber wins. It’s highly flexible and increasing speeds, it is secure and really is the basis for all the other competing technologies. We just do one thing differently. We take fiber all the way to the customer, and customers always want fiber when they can get it. You can expect us to continue investing to expand the reach of our access fiber network.
Beyond just being a superior technology, though, fiber is well suited to meet the demands of emerging opportunities driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data applications. Fiber-based solutions are better able to satisfy what we see as four key market trends. The need for highly scalable capacity, now ranging into multi gigabits per second; the need for connecting and increasing number of widely distributed locations; the need for the network itself to protect the privacy and security of our customers; and finally, the need to move bandwidth intensive computing resources closer and closer to the edge to reduce latency and unnecessary backhaul of traffic.
Expanding our on-net building footprint certainly helps us meet these needs. But we’ve implemented a number of other initiatives to ensure CenturyLink maintains our position as the premier fiber based provider for enterprise customers.
Our North American subsea fiber routes are a unique asset, and as I said earlier, we believe it represents the world’s most scalable and efficient fiber network. However, we are further augmenting our capabilities. We also own an extensive and unparalleled conduit system that we leverage to bring the latest generation fiber capabilities to market with extraordinary speed and economic efficiency. Each of the long haul networks we’ve acquired Level 3, Qwest, WilTel, Broadwing all had multi conduit builds.
Within the Level 3 network alone, we built 12 conduits to ensure we had sufficient space to grow and evolve this capacity in fiber technology evolved. Most of those conduits are still available for further network augmentation. But we’ve also interconnected all of those conduit systems to cherry-pick the shortest and lowest latency pass across the country. As illustrated on slide five, we recently announced the deployment of Corning’s latest generation of ultra-low loss fiber to build the world’s best, most scalable optical infrastructure. This new technology enables higher capacity and more efficient optical design than earlier fiber technologies.
Coupled with the selecting the shortest physical path between any two endpoints, we also improved latency significantly, which is a key factor for hyper scalars, bandwidth intensive enterprises, and dark fiber customers. We’ve completed 3.5 million miles of our current plan to build a total of 4.7 million fiber miles with ultra-low loss fiber roughly 75%. We continue to see demand for additional routes, and we’ll consider those to meet future customer needs.
We recognized that access and long haul transport only part of the solution. There’s increasing demand for computing capabilities at the edge of the network, and we believe we’re uniquely positioned to capitalize on this market opportunity. In addition to our far-reaching fiber network, we operate a large number of edge locations that are well suited to enable edge computing. In the coming weeks. We expect to announce the details of our investments in our widely distributed and extremely well connected edge computing infrastructure.
Storey gave two examples of Edge Computing using Century Link’s scaleable fiber network:
Let me give you a specific example from a customer of what fiber-based edge computing capabilities can mean for them. Slide 6 shows an actual customer with close to 2,000 nationwide locations. We are working with this customer to evaluate the effectiveness of our edge computing solutions to more efficiently run applications and process huge amounts of data very close to the origin of that data. On this slide, you can see that our existing infrastructure is positioned within five milliseconds transport time for 95% of their sites. This means that the customers applications and data can be processed more efficiently from a 100 or so of our edge locations, rather than processed on premise at 2,000 separate sites, even worse with the customer or backhaul to a central location.
In addition, our dynamic networking capabilities can provide real-time network provisioning from the customer premise to our edge, and then onto major cloud service providers. This example is for a specific customer, but the results are indicative of what we see from other customers we are currently working with.
This application can be an important solution for retail, banking, and really anyone that has a number of dispersed service locations that need to process large amounts of data in real time. The combination of our fiber network with edge computing infrastructure and managed services support is a very powerful and differentiated service offering. We are not suggesting that edge computing will eliminate the need for today’s hybrid computing or hybrid networking. To the contrary, our customers will continue to build and operate their own data centers, continue to move compute resources to public data centers and specific applications to cloud service providers.
Our customers want to dynamically manage their network and put different types of workloads in different environments. Through our wide array of hybrid networking solutions. CenturyLink provides the flexibility to do so easily. CenturyLink enables this flexibility with services like dynamic connections, which allows our customers to make instantaneous changes to their network, capacity, and configuration, and our cloud application manager, which allows customers to manage their applications across hybrid cloud environments through a single seamless interface.
Our network was purpose built to enable us to expand at the lowest cost in the industry. That’s a big advantage. It allows us to go to market quickly and invest in these types of growth initiatives within the bounds of our ongoing capital plans. The sufficiency is demonstrated in our ability to invest in all of these initiatives as well as other growth opportunities within the scope of the capex outlook we provided for the full-year 2019.
I’ll give you another specific customer example of how investments in flexible scalable fiber-based connectivity are helping us win in the market. We recently won a contract provide secured cloud connectivity to the US Census Bureau for the upcoming 2020 census. We will formally announce this contract later this week. To support the Census Bureau’s objectives, to provide the best mix of timeliness, relevancy, quality, and cost for the data they collect and the services they provide, CenturyLink will help to collect the census digitally by providing the bureau with managed trusted internet protocol services or MTIPS at speeds of 40 gigabits and higher.
MTIPS, a managed security service that provides secure cloud-based connectivity, will support the online system that will be available to all households completing the 2020 survey. The solution also allows the Census Bureau to access the responses via secured-cloud applications for the first time. CenturyLink was selected by the Bureau due to our ability to meet their requirements for scalable connectivity and will play an integral role in helping the US Census go digital in the most secure, reliable, and cost effective way as it takes an important mission of completing the 2020 census.
The census is obviously a unique example, but that’s the point of hybrid networking solutions from CenturyLink. Our customers can enable the capabilities to address their particular need. This solution highlights our ability to provide scalable, flexible network solutions that we believe are defining the next generation of enterprise networking.
Enterprise networking, a segment that includes CenturyLink’s high-bandwidth data services, managed services and SD-WAN services, declined 1.2% and was at $1.50 billion during the carrier’s fiscal second quarter compared to $1.52 billion in 2018’s Q2. However, Storey said that the company expects enterprise revenues to rise during the second-half of the year.
Small and medium business sales fell 11 percent during the quarter to $736 million compared to $819 million in Q2 2018 despite CenturyLink trying to focus strategic IT services geared toward the small and medium business market. Neel Dev, CenturyLink’s executive vice president and CTO, said that SMB revenue declines are largely driven by legacy products, but that the carrier “feels confident” it can return to profitability by selling to more businesses on its on-net fiber footprint.
Lisa Miller, CenturyLink’s president of wholesale and indirect channels and alliances, is “committed” to selling to small and midsized businesses who were outside of the legacy CenturyLink footprint.
“Level 3 didn’t focus there because they weren’t the type of customer we focused on, CenturyLink never focused there because they didn’t have the network to sell to those types of customers,” Storey explained. “It’s now a great opportunity for us and we need to focus and drive toward new opportunities with these customers.”
Consumer revenues continued its downward trajectory, falling by 8.4 percent to $1.42 billion during the quarter compared to Q2 2018’s result of $1.54 billion. CenturyLink today generates three-quarters of its revenue from business customers. During the provider’s Q1 2019 earnings call, Storey revealed that it was considering shopping around its consumer business. The executive said that CenturyLink’s internal teams are making “good progress” with the review, but that it will be a lengthy and complex process. In the meantime, Storey said the company won’t modify consumer investments and will continue to transform the Consumer business unit.
For the quarter which ended on June 30, Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink reported net income of $371 million in Q2 2019, which increased 21 percent compared to last year’s result of $292 million. The company reported total revenue of $5.58 billion and diluted earnings per share of 35 cents, a decline of 5.4 percent compared to $5.90 billion and 27 cents per share in the year-ago quarter. CenturyLink’s revenue came in just slightly lower than Wall Street analysts’ estimate of $5.59 billion.
In the first half of 2019, CenturyLink grew adjusted EBITDA by 80 million compared to the first half of 2018, while revenue declined more than 600 million over the same period. This was driven in part by our focus on adding profitable revenue in de-emphasizing unprofitable lines of businesses, managing legacy product declines, along with synergies and our cost transformation initiatives.
Total revenue in the first quarter declined 5.5% to 5.58 billion. Quarter-over-quarter, total revenue declined 1.2% compared to the 2.3% sequential decline we saw last quarter. In the enterprise segment, revenue declined 1.2% both year over year and sequentially. This compares to a decline of 1.6% year over year and 2.2% sequentially in the first quarter 2019. SMB revenue decreased 10% year over year compared to a decline of 3.7% in the first quarter 2019.
Neel Dev: “The revenue declines on the SMB business are largely driven by legacy voice. We feel good about our ability to sell into our on-net building footprint with a large addressable market opportunity. Wholesale revenue decreased 8.8% year over year. As we referenced last year, in the second quarter 2018, wholesale revenue included a favorable dispute settlement with a large carrier. Sequentially, we saw a decline of 1.8% compared to a 3.4% decline last quarter.”
Broadband revenue for the second quarter 2019 grew 1.8% year over year which compares to growth of 1.4% last quarter, driven by our efforts to increase penetration in our competitive assets and investing in fiber.
Voice revenue on a year over year basis declined 13% this quarter compared to 12% last quarter. The decline in other revenue continues to be driven by our decision to de-emphasize our Prism video product. Regulatory revenue is down year over year due to the adoption of new lease accounting standard.
In summary, we remain focused on execution specifically on improving revenue trajectory for the second half of 2019, maximizing profitability and remain discipline on our cost transformation and deleveraging initiatives.
AT&T Fiber Build-Outs:
For the first quarter 2019, AT&T reported 297,000 AT&T fiber customer gains and 45,000 broadband net adds, with broadband revenue growing more than 8%.
As part of its 2015 acquisition of DirecTV, the FCC required that AT&T expand its deployment of its high-speed, fiber-optic broadband internet service to 12.5 million customer locations, as well as to E-rate eligible schools and libraries, by July 2019.
Speaking Wednesday, June 5th at the Credit Suisse 21st Annual Communications Conference (see webcast url below), AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan said that AT&T now has a large inventory of fiber-based assets and that their fiber build-out has already reached 14.5 million customer locations.
Indeed, AT&T is offering fiber based internet in the SF Bay area via a KCBS radio commercial. However, they say availability is limited.
AT&T will be a bit slower in future fiber build-outs. Donovan said “We’ll continue to invest in fiber but we’ll do it based on the incremental, economic case. We’re not running to any household target.”
While it used to take AT&T 36 months to get fiber into roughly 30% of a market, AT&T can now reach 50% to 55% in 24 months time, according to Donovan.
“So I really like the cadence and the momentum that we’ve got in our brand, which is AT&T Fiber,” he said. “Where we have fiber we’re doing exceedingly well. Where we have slower speeds, sub 40 megabits per second, that’s where the majority of our churn is. But right now if you look at this year, we will add a million high-speed fiber broadband subs. And roughly two thirds of those come from cable. So we’re doing extremely well.”
AT&T’s pre-standard “5G” deployments, which will be launched in 29 cities by the end of the year, also benefit from the fiber build-out as fiber is needed for high bandwidth backhaul. Note yet again that an AT&T representative chairs ITU-R WP 5D where IMT 2020 (radio aspects) is being standardized.
Moffett-Nathanson report: “U.S. Broadband: Where Are AT&T Fiber’s Subscriber Gains Coming From?“
However, LightReading says that the bulk of AT&T Fiber subscriber growth is coming from AT&T. AT&T Fiber’s subscriber base is growing rapidly. AT&T disclosed that AT&T Fiber — the expanding FTTP portion of its footprint capable of delivering speeds up to 1 Gbit/s — gained about 1.1 million subscribers over the past year, bringing the total AT&T Fiber subscriber base to about 3.1 million.
However, AT&T appears to be benefiting largely from speed upgrades from its existing high-speed Internet customers rather than by stealing share away from cable rivals, according to a new subscribers only analysis of the U.S. broadband market by MoffettNathanson titled “U.S. Broadband: Where Are AT&T Fiber’s Subscriber Gains Coming From?”
“The short answer appears to be… from AT&T itself,” wrote Craig Moffett, lead analyst with Moffett-Nathanson, surmising that the bulk of new AT&T Fiber subs are coming from the company’s own broadband subscriber base, usually in the form of upgrades or migrations of existing U-verse customers.
Moffet said AT&T’s broader “IP Broadband” category” — which includes AT&T Fiber and U-verse/fiber-to-the-neighborhood customers — has posted comparatively modest subscriber gains over the past year.
Source: Company reports, MoffettNathanson estimates and analysis
“Therefore, unless AT&T’s U-verse broadband customers are suddenly fleeing for other providers in droves (unlikely), one obvious possibility is that many, or even most, of AT&T’s fiber gains are simply migrations of their existing customer base from one product to another,” Moffett explained, estimating that about 81% of AT&T Fiber net adds over Q1 2018 to Q1 2019 were migrations from U-verse.
Moffett said that migration story isn’t necessarily a surprising one. While the initial U-verse deployments in the early 2000s targeted some of the densest parts of the telco’s footprint, AT&T has predictably targeted FTTP deployments in many of the same dense areas, he added.
Also of note: AT&T Fiber’s base tier is $60 per month for a symmetrical 80 Mbit/s to 100 Mbit/s, the same as the U-verse standalone broadband product. “Even if a customer doesn’t really need faster upload speeds, if AT&T offers to upgrade a customer for no added cost why wouldn’t they switch?” Moffett asks.
And though AT&T Fiber subscribers appear to be largely coming way of upgrades or migrations of existing AT&T broadband subs, Moffett said that doesn’t mean that AT&T Fiber won’t have a bigger impact on competitors (like cable operators) eventually. “It’s just that it’s not having much impact yet,” he wrote, adding that AT&T Fiber’s expansion, expected to pass 14 million residential and small business locations by June 2019, remains a threat to cable that’s “worth watching.”
According to Moffett’s report, US MSOs added 1.04 million broadband subs in Q1, up from 962,000 in the year-ago quarter. US telcos added just 23,000 broadband subs in Q1 fueled by ongoing depletion of legacy DSL subs, but improved from a year-ago loss of 44,000 customers. The US satellite broadband sector, still a small player, added 15,000 subs in the quarter.
Combined, US broadband providers added 1.07 million subs in Q1 — a year-on-year growth rate of 2.9% — for a grand total of 107.81 million subs. Broken down by provider type, US cable led with 71.58 million, followed by the telcos (34.4 million) and satellite (1.82 million).
AT&T was the top U.S. network service provider in fiber lit buildings, according to the Vertical Systems Group’s 2018 U.S. Fiber Lit Buildings Leaderboard. AT&T ranked #1 in Vertical Systems fiber lit buildings findings for the third consecutive year.
Verizon, Spectrum Enterprise, CenturyLink, Comcast, Cox, Crown Castle Fiber, Frontier, Zayo, Altice USA, and Windstream were the other fiber lit leaders. Each of those companies had 10,000 or more on-net U.S. fiber lit commercial buildings as of year-end 2018, according to VSG.
Vertical Systems Group defines a fiber lit building as a commercial site or data center that has on-net optical fiber connectivity to a network provider’s infrastructure, plus active service termination equipment onsite. Excluded for purpose of the Leaderboard rankings analysis are standalone cell towers, small cells not located in fiber lit buildings, near net buildings, buildings classified as coiled at curb or coiled in building, HFC-connected buildings, carrier central offices, residential buildings, and private or dark fiber installations.
“Following a flurry of mergers and acquisitions, fiber providers focused on new buildouts in 2018 to meet customer demand for higher speed dedicated access to business services and to support 5G pilots,” said Rosemary Cochran, principal of Vertical Systems Group, in a prepared statement. “Our research shows that while the majority of large and medium size commercial buildings in the U.S. are fiber lit with one or more providers, relatively few small multi-tenant buildings are fiber connected. Cable MSOs and regional network operators have been most actively targeting fiber investment opportunities in this underserved segment.”
Thirteen companies qualified for VSG’s 2018 “Challenge Tier” (listed here in alphabetical order): Atlantic Broadband, Cincinnati Bell, Cleareon, Cogent, Consolidated Communications, FiberLight, FirstLight, GTT, IFN, Logix Fiber Networks, Segra, Unite Private Networks, and Uniti Fiber. These fiber providers each qualify for the 2018 Challenge Tier with between 2,000 and 9,999 U.S. fiber lit commercial buildings.
Fiber Provider Research Summary:
-AT&T ranks #1 on the Fiber Lit Buildings LEADERBOARD for the third consecutive year.
-Frontier moves into the #8 position, up from ninth in the prior year.
-As a result, Zayo falls to #9, down from eighth position.
-Windstream enters the LEADERBOARD at #11, moving up from the Challenge Tier.
-Atlantic Broadband and GTT advance to the Challenge Tier, both moving up from the Market Player tier.
-Cincinnati Bell’s acquisition of Hawaiian Telecom, which was completed in 2018, is reflected in this analysis.
-Segra is the new brand name for the merged entity of Lumos Networks and Spirit Communications.
VSG “Market Players” include all other fiber providers with fewer than 2,000 U.S. commercial fiber lit buildings. The 2018 Market Players tier includes more than two hundred metro, regional and other fiber providers.
AT&T has expanded its AT&T Fiber service (Fiber to the Premises or FTTP) to 12 additional markets, including three in Texas and three in Florida. The telco’s FTTP offering now reaches more than 10 million locations in 84 metro areas, with 3 million of those having come this year. The company hopes to reach at least 14 million locations by mid-2019. That’s impressive!
AT&T now has fiber to more than 2 million business customer locations – with another 6 million locations within 1000 feet of fiber.
In a press release, the company said that mobile 5G success will rely on a quality fiber connection to the wireless towers or small cells, which then translate the fiber connection into an ultra-fast wireless signal for customers. Under the AT&T plans, eligible broadband customers can choose from a range of internet speed plans.
New research conducted for the Fiber Broadband Association by research firm RVA, LLC found 18.4 million U.S. fiber broadband homes as of September 2018, up from approximately 15 million a year earlier. Service providers made broadband available to a record-breaking 5.9 million new homes in the year ending September 2018, RVA said.
Network operators now market fiber broadband to 39.2 million U.S. homes, including 1.6 million homes that can get fiber broadband from two or more providers, according to the research.
AT&T says it offers Fiber to the premises in Santa Clara, CA (my home town for almost 49 years), but it’s not available anywhere in ny neighborhood. When I enter my zip code and address in the box on their website, I get no mention of fiber availability, but instead this box:
We found existing AT&T wireless service at your address.
This is my account and I’d like to see my offers and deals.
In other words, it’s a frustrating cop-out on FTTP for Santa Clara, CA. Suggest readers check AT&T Fiber availability for your address/zip code.
The availability of optical fiber connectivity to large and medium size commercial buildings in the U.S. jumped to 54.8% in 2017, based on latest research from Vertical Systems Group. AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink’s aggressive build-outs of fiber into commercial buildings have continued to increase the availability of fiber connectivity.
As a result, the U.S. Fiber Gap has dropped to less than fifty percent (45.2%) for the first time. This annual benchmark quantifies the scope of fiber lit buildings in the U.S. with twenty or more employees. Encompassing more than two million individual business establishments, this base of commercial buildings maps directly to the addressable market for higher speed Carrier Ethernet, Cloud, Data Center, Hybrid VPN and emerging SDN-enabled services.
“More commercial U.S. buildings were newly lit with fiber during 2017 than in any other year since we initiated this research in 2004…..
AT&T told investors that it reached 400,000 business buildings with its own lit fiber facilities. Due to AT&T’s aggressive build-out, the service provider now covers over 1.8 million U.S. business customer locations. The telco said it is “adding thousands more buildings each month.”
CenturyLink and Verizon took the M&A path to enhance their on-net fiber holdings.
In a huge M&A deal, CenturyLink’s purchase of Level 3 increased its on-net building reach by nearly 75% to approximately 100,000 buildings, including 10,000 buildings in EMEA and Latin America, which gives the #3 U.S. telco a larger footprint to deliver carrier Ethernet and software-defined network services.
Verizon’s purchase of XO Communications gave the telco additional metro fiber networks in 40 major U.S. markets with over 4,000 on-net buildings and 1.2 million fiber miles.
Consolidated Communications also enhanced its on-net fiber holdings via its acquisition of FairPoint. By acquiring FairPoint, Consolidated immediately established itself as the ninth largest fiber player with a presence in 24 states and 8,000 on-net buildings.
This greater density will enable Consolidated to pursue more dark fiber and lit Ethernet service opportunities with a larger mix of business and wholesale customers.
What was also notable about this year’s M&A on-net building rush was the presence of nontraditional players like Uniti Fiber, which acquired two regional fiber providers, Southern Light and Hunt Telecom. These two deals give the REIT more fiber to pursue a mix of wireless, E-Rate, military, enterprise and wholesale opportunities, including fiber-to-the-tower backhaul, small cell networks and dark fiber. The acquisition of Southern Light in particular gives Uniti access to an additional 4,500 on-net locations.
Fueling Ethernet, 5G deployments
Having more available on-net fiber is another factor that plays into service providers’ U.S. Ethernet service reach and 5G plans by creating pipes through which wireless operators can build small cell and distributed antenna systems (DAS) to improve wireless coverage in business buildings.
Encompassing more than 2 million individual business establishments, this base of commercial buildings maps directly to the addressable market for higher speed carrier Ethernet, cloud, data center, hybrid VPN and emerging SDN-enabled business services.
Several of the service providers that have high on-net fiber building counts represent some of the largest Ethernet providers in the U.S.
On the Ethernet end, AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon continue to demand high spots in the Ethernet space. However, the effect of M&A clearly has altered the Ethernet landscape.
CenturyLink knocked AT&T from its nearly 13-year reign as the top domestic Ethernet provider in the U.S. by completing its acquisition of Level 3 Communications. The service provider’s move up the ranks of VSG’s year-end 2017 U.S. Ethernet Leaderboard was also a function of continued growth in Ethernet ports for both companies. Earlier, Level 3 ranked second to AT&T and CenturyLink ranked fifth on the Mid-2017 U.S. Ethernet Leaderboard.
But Ethernet is only one factor driving ongoing on-net fiber builds. Cochran noted in an e-mail to FierceTelecom that “larger providers larger providers are accelerating deployments” to position themselves for 5G.
Verizon, for example, acquired WideOpenWest’s fiber assets in Chicago, securing fiber to more than 500 macro-cell wireless sites and more than 500 small-cell wireless sites in the area.
Crown Castle advanced its fiber standing by acquiring Lightower—a deal that gave it greater fiber density to address businesses and its traditional wireless business customers deploying small cells in buildings. This acquisition gave Crown Castle rights to approximately 60,000 route miles of fiber, with a presence in all the top 10 and 23 of the top 25 metro markets.
As the expectations for higher speed Ethernet, cloud and in-building wireless coverages continues to ramp, service providers will continue to further narrow the fiber gap inside buildings. But unlike the speculative builds of the 1990s, these are focused on bandwidth hungry applications that are showing no signs of slowing.
For this Vertical Systems Group analysis, a fiber lit building is defined as a commercial site or data center that has on-net optical fiber connectivity to a network provider’s infrastructure, plus active service termination equipment onsite. Excluded from this analysis are standalone cell towers, small cells not located in fiber lit buildings, near net buildings, buildings classified as coiled at curb or coiled in building, HFC-connected buildings, carrier central offices, residential buildings, and private or dark fiber installations.