Frontier sets sights on rural EoC opportunities

Frontier coverage map

Frontier's coverage map.

After purchasing Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) rural assets in 14 states, Frontier Communications (Nasdaq: FTR) spent much of 2010 and 2011 focusing on integrating those assets into its portfolio and expanding broadband services.

Augmenting those efforts was an equally important effort to expand business services into these areas. In 2011, Frontier residential announced it would expand its Ethernet service capabilities in 55 markets across 10 states in 2011.

Leveraging a mix of copper and fiber, Frontier has been using Ethernet to deliver services to businesses, wireless backhaul and to backhaul its own consumer DSL traffic from its CO (central office) and RT (remote terminal)-located DSLAMs.

Much of this work was done in the former Verizon markets that had not had been upgraded to support broadband or business grade Ethernet. Prior to the sale to Frontier, Verizon's attention was centered around building out FiOS and wireless services in larger Tier 1 markets.

To support Ethernet and other related business services, the service provider deployed Tellabs' (Nasdaq: TLAB) ROADMs in West Virginia, Oregon, Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. In each of these markets it can deliver service off each of the ROADM nodes that Frontier has connected together.

"We have spent a quite a bit of money adding ROADM networks into these acquired properties and enabling them with Ethernet," said Michael Golob, SVP Engineering at Frontier.

Delivering business grade Ethernet concides with Frontier's move to provide its existing wireless backhaul customers Ethernet-based backhaul services.

"We're heavily involved with cell site backhaul, and just about all of the vendors we're working with such as AT&T (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S) or Verizon (NYSE: VZ) want Ethernet as that backhaul device," Golob said. "If we were doing it for backhaul why not open up the whole market and engineer it at one time to deliver that Ethernet service to an entire market?"

Besides delivering Ethernet over fiber, Frontier is no less aggressive with EoC, using gear from both Actelis and ADTRAN (Nasdaq: ADTN).

While Frontier has been building out fiber throughout its communities, its rural nature means that it can't reach every site with fiber right away. One area where EoC has been a good fit is school districts that have multiple dispersed locations.

"If you take a school district, (it may) have an administration building and a couple of high schools that have fiber to them, but when you get out to the elementary schools it will be a copper-based solution," Golob said. "You need something that can tie that all together, and Actelis was a good solution for where we don't have fiber every place."

In terms of speed, Frontier's EoC sweet spot ranges between 5-50 Mbps, with the majority of its customers using between 10-20 Mbps.

With a number of vendors realizing not everyone can put fiber everywhere, or at least immediately, Golob said he's noticed a number of enhancements made to more effectively deliver EoC services.   

Among those enhancements are the advent of new repeaters to get up to 100 Mbps over eight pairs of copper and extend the reach over greater distances and enabling customers to get a better experience that the customer does not know if it's going over copper or fiber.  

"There was more investment dollars over the last three or four years that went into enhancements for copper that in the last 18 months coming to market that are making Ethernet over Copper more viable," Golob said. "It goes all the way down to offering QoS and SLAs over Ethernet over Copper that in the initial flavors weren't possible."

Frontier sets sights on rural EoC opportunities