FierceTelecom: Along with digital switching, SureWest was clearly one of the early adopters of Fiber to the X (FTTX), beginning with a Fiber to the Curb network deployment. What initially drove you to deploy FTTX?
Demuth: We began deploying fiber into our interoffice facilities and into some of our remote equipment locations around 1985, when we installed our first controlled environmental vault--that was a room underground that housed electronic switching equipment in it. It allowed us that equipment further out in the network so we did not have to build all that copper facility back to our Central Offices (COs).
As a matter of fact, we built a new Central Office in Roseville around 1978, and I remember the cable vault facility was over a half block long. At that time that you thought all this copper with all the growth is going to come back to the COs. If you go to that cable vault now, you'll find it's mostly empty because what comes back there is fiber and copper goes out from the remote sites. In the mid-80s it was to meet that growth requirement and shortening the loops up so we didn't have to treat voice requirements.
Then, in 1995, we had our first opportunity to deploy Fiber to the Curb. There was a housing development with a thousand homes that went in very quickly. We wanted to shorten those loops and provide voice and ISDN of all things and get into video so we powered that plant with coax with the hope to use it to provide video. Due to regulatory constraints, the video capabilities over that network never materialized. Eventually, about five years later, that network was evolved to a Broadband PON (BPON) network, which gave us first exposure to Fiber to the Home (FTTH). At that time BPON was a vendor proprietary solution, but it did drive fiber all the way home. If I go a bit further into the FTTH history, we bought the assets of an over builder in Sacramento called Win First, which had a hybrid network of fiber and coax to all homes. We looked at that and decided to evolve it to an active fiber network that we continue to build and grow in Sacramento. We now pass about 150,000 in the Sacramento area. At that time, GPON was not available around 2002-2003 timeframe so an active network made sense for us and still makes sense today.
FierceTelecom: How has FTTH technology and systems evolved from an economics and technology standpoint?
Demuth: To start with from an economics standpoint, the fiber deployment has been a very sound investment for SureWest. It's an investment we'll be able to leverage for years to come, even as consumer demands grow and evolve, without need to rebuild the network. Granted, the software and electronics will change over the years, but that core fiber infrastructure where most of the cost is will be viable for years if not decades. I know earlier this year, there was a lot of press about Google's initiative to bring Gbps speeds to the home networks, but we have already tested how we can evolve our 100 Mbps to the home network to a Gigabit by changing out some of our pluggable optics and software upgrades.