AT&T's 1 Gig drive resonating with multi-dwelling unit property developers

As AT&T (NYSE: T) rolls out its 1 Gbps GigaPower into more communities, it is keen to wire more existing and new multi-dwelling units (MDU) with fiber.

Extending FTTH service to MDUs is a natural fit for AT&T. The service provider has been wiring up MDUs with its fiber-to-the-node (FTTN)-based U-verse service for a number of years.

Earlier this year, the service provider announced a new program called AT&T Connected Communities (ACC) targeting property owners, management groups and developers to extend its 1 Gbps U-verse with GigaPower fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) service into new and existing multi-dwelling units (MDUs).

Initially, the program will focus on targeting MDUs in the markets where it already offers GigaPower such as Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Kansas City.

Eric Boyer, SVP, GigaPower and Connected Communities for AT&T, told FierceInstaller that depending on whether it is working with an MDU is older or it's in the process of being built is what dictates the kind of build it will face.

In a Greenfield MDU build, the fiber installation process is easier for AT&T and other service providers because they have the benefit of installing the conduit and fiber to each unit as the building gets built.

"From a wiring perspective, MDUs are interesting in that if you're involved with them from the beginning they can be very straightforward," Boyer said. "If you come along after they have been built can provide some challenges depending on the type of solution you have and one of the things we're really excited about with fiber is it is very cost effective for us to bring in the apartment complexes themselves a lot of different options of how we bring services to the customer."

But getting fiber into an existing building can be more challenging. This is because the service provider has to deal with an environment that may or may not have existing conduit, meaning that AT&T would have to install it itself, for example.

"Existing building units can be challenges depending on the age of property and what they have in place," Boyer said. "Sometimes we're able to use existing facilities and if we're not able to use existing facilities then they need to be run. And fiber is particularly flexible in terms of being able to get it cost effectively into properties in a way that makes sense for us and also makes sense for the property owner and their tenants."

Being that it is offering something new to MDU owners with the FTTH service, the service provider often has to provide some upfront education to help them understand the value of fiber-based broadband connection with video and IP-based voice services.

Thus far, Boyer said that the response by property owners has been overall positive.

"A little bit of it is like any business relationship by creating awareness and having people understand what we're doing and what the value is for the property owner," Boyer said. "Some people are more ahead along on those paths and with others it takes more time, but overall the response has been incredible, and our message to property owners is that we'd love to talk to you. And the sooner we can get you in line to have your property served."

One state where it has begun to see momentum is in Illinois -- a key target for AT&T's 1 Gbps service. In April, the service provider announced Elgin, Oswego, Plainfield, Skokie, Yorkville and surrounding communities located throughout the Chicago metro area were target areas for the service. AT&T has also extended the service to Chicago, posing a greater challenge to area cable operator Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA). 

Already, the work is paying off in cities like Mundelein, Ill., where TRES Real Estate Services, which is responsible for the development of the Cardinal Square development.

"We're excited about Cardinal Square as it's one of the first to bring GigaPower to," Boyer said. "We have had a number of others and it's gone extremely well from AT&T's perspective and we're exciting to bring this to premier properties like this and it spreads the word about GigaPower and helps them provide an outstanding experience for their residents."

Sean P. McMahon, general manager at TRES Real Estate Services, responsible for the development of Cardinal Square, told FierceInstaller that having AT&T bring its 1 Gbps services will make its properties more attractive to renters.

"It's not like people are flooding to our developments because we have 1 Gbps, but it will eventually get out there," McMahon said. "As people see, whether they are professional or a family with five children, it will become a valuable thing and differentiate us in the rental market where they have a choice."

McMahon added that having a 1 Gbps-capable service could be potentially a lure for professionals that need bandwidth to telecommute.

"A lot of people these days are in the rental market and they can choose one property to the next and chose annually so do you stay in an apartment that you like, but you really can't work from home that well and move the next year to a place where you can your work done and not have problems?," McMahon said. "I think in the rental market it's going to be a big driver as one of the amenities that a developer brings and it will be of value."

So how can property owners get AT&T's attention to bring fiber to their MDUs?

Taking a page from Google Fiber's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Fiberhood concept, ACC can can plan and install a fiber network in three steps. Property owners nominate their property by going to the site; then, a custom overbuild design will be created by AT&T engineers and approved by the property's owners. Once an agreement is reached, the telco will install the GigaPower network in a way that will "minimize disruption to the property and residents.

Expanding FTTH services to more single family and MDUs has been a key priority for AT&T overall. As one of its provisions of getting its DirecTV deal approved by the FCC, AT&T agreed to bring FTTH services to an additional 12.5 million locations over the next four years.

AT&T is not taking a reinvent the wheel approach to its FTTH build out. In addition to installing new fiber into existing and new neighborhoods, AT&T also plans to extend its existing fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) network to meet its goals.

When it comes to deciding where to go next, Boyer said that it is looking to match up where it seeing the most interest in the service.

"We're looking to identify prospects across our footprint that are interested in the program and if fiber is already there and is available in that wire center it's pretty straightforward for us to bring the property online fairly quickly," Boyer said. "It may be the timing of the particular city we're talking about or 'the wire center is down the road, but the property owner should get in there early' are the ones that we can pre-stage. And once we do make the decisions to deploy the electronics, those are the ones that we'll bring up the most quick."  

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