AT&T: Building owners' recognition of fiber services bodes well for installers, service providers

AT&T (NYSE: T) is finding that as it comes closer to reaching its goal of installing fiber to 1 million buildings in its wireline territory, more property managers are seeing the value of having fiber at their facilities, a phenomenon that's going to give network installers more work.

As property owners and building mangers remove the barriers for AT&T and others to install fiber in their buildings, AT&T will enable it to reach a wider diversity of customers, ranging from large enterprises down to small businesses.

"There is a recognition that having fiber inside a building is just as important as having water or heat, so they want it in there," said Matt Beattie, executive director of product marketing for AT&T, in an interview with FierceInstaller. "It's been a very pleasant development and it's changing the economics of delivering fiber so we can get fiber to more types of customers like smaller and smaller businesses and that's good news for us and the installer industry because it increases the amount of work they're going to see in the next several years."

Beattie added that the reception of property owners is making it easier for AT&T to get fiber-based services into more business parks and buildings it could not serve before.  

"One of the things that I have seen over the past couple of years that's good for us as a service provider and for the installer industry in general is I am seeing much more acceptance by property managers and building owners to realize that they need to have to fiber in their buildings," Beattie said. "In situations where five to ten years ago they may have charged us for access to a riser, I am seeing those barriers fall away."

Two markets where it is seeing building owners embrace AT&T's fiber drive is Athens, Tenn. and Louisville, Ky. where it designated two key office parks as AT&T Fiber Ready. The AT&T Fiber Ready designation helps economic development leaders more effectively position their communities for site selection by emphasizing the availability of high-speed, fiber-based services. 

It announced last month that in Athens, Tenn.; Interstate; Mt. Verd and North Etowah Industrial Parks in McMinn County are now designated Fiber Ready. Likewise, in Louisville's Bluegrass Crossings Business Centre in Beaver Dam, Ky., has been given the same designation.

By becoming Fiber Ready, these communities will make themselves a more attractive draw for businesses to locate in communities outside of the major metro areas like Dallas and Boston.

While the opportunity is large, there are a number of challenges for AT&T and the installer community in wiring buildings, particularly older ones, with fiber.

Depending on the age and state of a building, the challenges AT&T runs into when installing fiber could include anything from existing conduit that's crowded with unused copper or coax wiring to finding ways to replace fire stop material that is not compliant with current codes. Many of the obstacles can't be predicted and often come up during the installation process.

To overcome these issues, AT&T has found that its engineers will often have to be creative and alter their original engineering plans for certain buildings.

"We try to do our best to see how easy it's going to be to build out," Beattie said. "What really tends to happen is when we get into common space, we'll run into a situation where somebody at some point in time used inappropriate fire stop material that does not live up to code so you have to rely on the creativity of the engineers going out to the site to do the installation."

One example where AT&T had to alter its fiber installation process was for the Stutz Bearcat car manufacturing facility in Indianapolis.

"We were supplying service to the old Stutz Bearcat building in Indianapolis, which included thick concrete floors so going from floor to floor was a real pain in the neck," Beattie said. "That team as they were going out there to connect that customer got the property manager involved [and] came up with some creative ways to get around boring through 18 inches of concrete."

Beattie said one way that installers that work with AT&T and others can also overcome network build out challenges will be to keep abreast of the emerging sets of fiber technologies and methodologies.

This includes an array of new fiber technology, including thinner and pre-connectorized fiber that allows installers to navigate through crowded existing conduit made by well-known vendors such as AFS and Corning. 

"One of the things that installers need to be good at is staying on top of is the different innovations from different manufacturers to integrate those into their portfolio," Beattie said. "Those manufacturers have made incredible gains in being able to deal with all of these challenges so if the installer is able to deal with multiple types of media when they get out there they are going to be more successful in satisfying that demand, which applies to anyone involved in pulling this stuff."

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