VTel broadband roll out 'microcosm of what could happen in rural America'

VTel, a Vermont ILEC, is completing a statewide LTE rollout in Vermont that will complement its rollout of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) that reaches every home in 14 villages in the state. In an interview with FierceInstaller, VTel President Michel Guite called his company's effort a "microcosm of what could happen in rural America," as nearly all Vermont residents now have affordable access to mobile broadband and all residents of 14 villages now have access to the Internet at Gigabit speeds.

VTel employed Mastec to do most of the FTTP deployment, although Guite added that VTel also used numerous Vermont contractors as well in the rollout. The fiber currently passes 17,500 homes and businesses, he said.

Active Ethernet was selected as the FTTP technology. This technology has an advantage in that the bandwidth is not shared, although active Ethernet is widely viewed as being more expensive than Gigabit Passive Optical Ethernet technology, which has the advantage of carriers not having to provide power to active electronics in the field.

When a customer orders FTTP service, VTel generally rolls a truck that has one installer. The installer attaches a network interface device from Calix on the side of the house. VTel has found that putting the device on the outside of the house provides the advantage of easy access for technicians.

Installation normally takes about an hour, although it can take two and a half hours if there are problems with the home's cabling. Guite said that in some cases, the coaxial cable has splices and quality issues, requiring a rewiring of the home. VTel sometimes replaces the previous cabling with category 5 cable.

Fiber-based broadband pricing starts at $59.95 per month for symmetrical speeds of up to 1 Gbps. On June 4, VTel announced the launch of speeds of up to 10 Gbps per month for $400 per month. VTel also sells TV and phone services via fiber.

The LTE rollout is nearly complete and is expected to cover nearly all homes in Vermont. VTel has claimed that its rollout is the first all-LTE rollout in the U.S. Commercial wireless service has not yet been officially launched, but Guite told FierceInstaller that the LTE service is now in advanced beta testing with a large number of users.

Currently, the LTE service does not have a voice component, but VTel Wireless is exploring VoLTE as a means of making voice available. VTel LTE users are currently using Internet devices such as mobile hotspots, but Guite did say VTel Wireless has a contract with a company that will allow it to sell mobile phones. The carrier has an LTE roaming agreement with Sprint, and equipment from Ericsson is being used for the rollout.

VTel Wireless currently has 119 cell sites in rural areas in addition to 20-25 in urban areas. One of the sites features an antenna hidden inside the steeple of Bethany Church, a Montpelier church than is more than 200 years old.

Monthly plans from VTel Wireless include offerings of 1 GB for $10, 10 GB for $25 and 20 GB for $40. Also, the carrier is offering one year of free access to the 1 GB tier for existing landline Internet customers.

The FTTP rollout was facilitated by an award of $85 million from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The LTE rollout was largely funded via an $81 million RUS broadband stimulus grant and a $35 million government loan.

For more:
- see this article from Vermont Public Radio

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