Regional broadband provider Great Plains Communications is hoping to stay ahead of the rising traffic curve, leveraging a mix of government and internal funding to upgrade and expand its access network with 10-gig capable fiber.
The operator is a privately-owned broadband provider, serving enterprise, carrier and residential customers across 11 states in the Midwest with 13,500 miles of fiber. Its residential footprint for internet, voice and video services is primarily concentrated in Indiana and Nebraska, with wholesale fiber for last- and middle-mile access extending further to parts of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Tony Thakur, the operator’s CTO, told Fierce it’s in the middle of a wide-ranging fiber upgrade and expansion project which includes a combination of edge outs, greenfield deployments and fiber upgrades. Though he did not provide an exact figure, he said its current projects are targeting north of 8,000 locations. He added it’s using XGS-PON and other fiber technologies for its builds.
“Fiber is a sure bet,” he said. “We are protecting ourselves for the future, so we can add more and more bandwidth. Today, yes, folks are asking for a gig, kind of consumer and small biz, but you know the larger businesses are looking for 10 gig…10 gig is going to become the next 1 gig of the future and fiber is delivering that today.”
Thakur noted it is using a combination of federal, state and internal funding to get the work done, with the latter used primarily for strategic expansions in greenfield markets. In terms of federal funding, he said it is working on a "handful of places" using money from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) but did not elaborate.*
Thakur said it is also using funding from the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) program, Indiana’s Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program and Nebraska’s Remote Access Rural Broadband Grant program. From Indiana it received an unspecified sum to cover 600 homes by early 2022, while Nebraska awarded it a total of $8.9 million to connect 4,788 housing units across seven cities.
Fruits of 5G
Looking beyond its residential and enterprise broadband efforts, Thakur said Great Plains Communications’ wholesale fiber business is also booming thanks to 5G. He said in addition to last mile fiber, the operator provides transport services over its multi-state fiber backbone. The backbone is based on ROADM technology and is capable of delivering 400G and beyond through equipment provided by Ciena, though the operator currently only offers wavelengths up to 100-gig.
In Nebraska he said it is providing backhaul for all of the major wireless providers, as well as in Illinois and Indiana. He added “we’re getting several opportunities to build out to new towers, especially with 5G.”
“They’re actually getting very aggressive,” he said. “All of the wireless providers, whether it’s AT&T, Verizon, they’re essentially upgrading their network. So, in some cases they may have less than a gig and they need a gig immediately. In some cases they have a gig, they need 10-gig. That’s very, very active for us.”
*This story has been corrected to remove a reference to Great Plains Communications' RDOF awards, which were listed as $19.2 million in funding for 5,887 locations. Those figures were incorrect. Its actual totals were not immediately available.