TDS’ Wittwer: Deploying FTTH is not always a slam dunk

rural (Pixabay)

TDS Telecom is a fan of deploying FTTH in the last mile, but as a telco that serves rural areas with copper facilities the service provider targets deployments in areas where it can make a business case work.

As of the end of the second quarter, the service provider said that its ongoing buildout of fiber has enabled it to reach about 19% of its network route miles with fiber.

Dave Wittwer, who will retire as president of TDS Telecom at the end of this year, told FierceTelecom fiber is just one part of a broader set of solutions that the telco will use to enhance the broadband speeds it delivers to consumers.

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TDS Telecom
Dave Wittwer

“In order to increase the speeds, you can shorten copper loops or you could deploy fiber, and it’s not always a slam dunk in terms of the answer,” Wittwer said. “In many cases, deploying fiber makes sense because you have less active electronics." 

However, Wittwer added that "the fundamental cost of the glass is higher, because unlike shortening loops it’s a bigger conversion.”

While deploying FTTH may produce greater cost savings for larger telcos operating in Tier 1 markets, the rural markets TDS operates within means it can’t deploy it to every consumer.

“The one thing we don’t factor in is that somehow fiber is significantly less expensive to maintain,” Wittwer said. “The reason I say that is in the markets we don’t have the luxury to make the market 100% fiber.”  

Wittwer added that in some markets, TDS will deploy FTTH to a portion and then serve the remaining community with higher speeds via VDSL2 and bonding via the existing copper network.

“A market might be 40% fiber and 60% copper,” Wittwer said. “We’re maintaining both copper and fiber, meaning our technicians have to be trained in both and have the test sets, the provisioning techniques for both networks.”

Consumers adopt higher speeds

TDS may not be deploying FTTH everywhere, but in markets where it is present, telco’s fiber network investments are also driving positive results in consumer services like IPTV.

During the second quarter, TDS reported IPTV connections grew 12% as the telco added 5,000 connections compared to the prior year. Additionally, the service provider is seeing more of its customers opt to purchase higher speeds, including 1 Gbps, in its FTTH-enabled markets.

In its ILEC markets, TDS is finding that residential customers continue to choose higher speeds. About 22% of the service provider’s customers are now taking 50 megabit services or greater.

Wittwer said that the proliferation of devices inside the consumer home is driving more customers to desire higher speeds.

“When you think of all the devices we have in our homes and start putting them all together, it’s a bit staggering,” Wittwer said. “Granted, some of those things aren’t huge consumers of broadband, but sometimes it’s not just a matter of a single application, but customers understand that having more robust speed allows them to have more concurrent users, which improves the experience.”

Gfast rural challenges

One of the other network evolutions that TDS is examining is Gfast, a technology that allows service providers to potentially deliver up to 1 Gbps speeds over existing copper and coax cable.

Like other telcos, TDS sees the value of using Gfast to expand speeds over existing infrastructure in apartment complexes and condominium developments.

“I think early applications could be inside apartments and other places where you have existing copper,” Wittwer said.

However, he says it will be hard to make a case for Gfast in the broader rural markets it serves today. This is because the loop lengths between its existing COs and remote terminals (RTs) are very spread out.

“It’s unlikely Gfast will be maininstream in rural America,” Wittwer said. “In some places in rural markets, the driveway could be 500 feet long so it does not work to have active electronics at every mail box.”