CenturyLink wires 44 Wisconsin MDUs with G.fast, delivers 500/50 Mbps speeds

CenturyLink has installed G.fast technology in 44 multi-dwelling units (MDUs) in Platteville, Wisconsin, signaling its plan to enhance its broadband reach to customers where it could not make the right case for FTTH technology.

Leveraging a mix of existing copper and coax cable – cable it gained as a result of a cable overbuild its predecessor Qwest conducted – the service provider will deliver up to 500/50 Mbps to nearly 800 apartments in Platteville.

Being a college town, Platteville has a large amount of MDUs, making those sites an ideal initial rollout target for G.fast. The city is home to University of Wisconsin–Platteville, and a number of engineering firms have located in Platteville to take advantage of UW-P's engineering program.

Similar to its 1 Gbps deployment in Omaha, Nebraska, CenturyLink replaced Platteville’s aging HFC cable network with FTTH in 2015. During that process, the service provider upgraded CenturyLink Televideo TV service customers to its Prism IPTV-based TV service.

As a result of the FTTH upgrade, CenturyLink was able to serve a large majority of residential and business customers with 1 Gbps speeds.

Curt Frankenfeld, director of access strategy development for CenturyLink, told FierceTelecom that the service provider wanted to have a unified network that could service multiple needs.

Curt Frankenfeld
“When we wanted to upgrade the plant, we had a unique problem in that we were the cable company providing HFC-based video and a telephone company, but we wanted to behave like one company,” Frankenfeld said. “We wanted unify our technology so we overbuilt most of the town with fiber to the premises, but there were some apartment complexes that did not want to rewire their complexes and disrupt their customers.”

Frankenfeld said Centurylink wanted to honor its customer’s desires while still unifiying its technology strategy. 

“G.fast fit that bill perfectly,” Frankenfeld said. “We were able to use existing facilities, minimize disruption to the apartment complex, gain cost control for us, and it gave us a nice platform to build our future on.”

By using G.fast, a number of the apartment complexes in this area that it could not reach with FTTH technology can now get 500/50 Mbps broadband speeds and Prism TV service.

Future iterations of the G.fast-based products will include higher speeds and a symmetrical offering.

“One of the things I like about G.fast is that we’re not constrained to VDSL2 downstream allocations,” Frankenfeld said. “We can pretty much set up how we want that product to look as long as we don’t mix it within a vector group.”

But CenturyLink’s G.fast build in Platteville is not a science experiment.

Frankenlfeld said the Platteville deployment is “more than proof of concept since we have live paying customers on it and so it is up and running and is in place.” 

For this deployment, CenturyLink was able to use the existing coax it had installed to provide its HFC-based service. The coax wiring is then connected to Calix’s AXOS G.fast solution for its G.fast deployment in Platteville, with all systems and services managed via the cloud through Calix’s Compass Consumer Connect Plus software.

One of the differentiators here for CenturyLink is that the coax plant in these buildings is not shared. In this case, CenturyLink has a coax network that has a home run from each apartment to a telecom closet.

“We’re using coax to distribute the G.fast signal in many of these buildings,” Frankenfeld said. “There are a few that are twisted pair, but if you have coax to use it’s a better conductor as long it’s not a shared facility.”

Flexible scenarios

While MDUs are the initial focus for this technology, CenturyLink is also evaluating how to apply G.fast technology in other network scenarios besides MDUs.

This could include fiber-fed multi-tenant units (MTUs) and neighborhoods where it has existing fiber-to-the-curb (FTTC) builds that will allow G.fast to push higher speeds over the short copper loop into the home.

“The other reason for doing this is that we do have some remaining fiber-to-the-curb properties and we have converted a lot of those to fiber-to-the-premises,” Frankenfeld said. “There are some where fiber-to-the-premise did not make cost sense, so G.fast is an economic solution for that to support those service areas.”

Initially focusing on serving consumers, Frankenfeld said that it could also use G.fast to address business customers that desired higher speeds with minimal disruption to a building’s tenants. Additionally, CenturyLink could deploy an optical data unit (ODU) outside of a building if the owner does not want more equipment to be housed in their facility.

“It gives us some advantages when we start talking about business multi-tenant units,” Frankenfeld said. “It gives us the capability of supporting very high symmetric speeds that our business customers want, and we don’t have to rewire the building.”

G.fast will enable CenturyLink to overcome the distance challenges in delivering Ethernet to certain businesses via traditional Category 5 cable.

“We don’t have to live with the limitations of carrying Ethernet over Cat 5 where I have a 300 feet limit for a 100 Mbps product,” Frankenfeld said. “We could get a 100 Mbps product out to 1,200 feet on G.fast from what we’re seeing in the lab.”

Broader deployment coming

Platteville appears to be a dress rehearsal for a broader deployment of G.fast in other parts of CenturyLink’s network footprint.

While he could not specify where it may go next with G.fast services, Frankenfeld said CenturyLink is planning on replicating G.fast deployments like this one in other markets.

“We’re going through some needed back office work where we can scale efficiently and looking at variants of G.fast that are available to us today,” Frankenfeld said. “We’re going to continue to test and we’re going to turn up a couple more properties similar to what we did in Platteville by the end of this year, and we’re looking for a broader scale deployment next year.”

In tandem with G.fast, CenturyLink is using a host of other new technologies on its existing network infrastructure to accommodate the growing broadband needs of its customers, including the delivery of internet speeds up to 100 Mbps to nearly 1 million homes and businesses using VDSL2 vectoring.

CenturyLink is hardly alone in its desire to use G.fast to enhance faster broadband rollouts in areas where it can’t make a FTTP business case.

Fellow telcos AT&T and Windstream have been keen on using G.fast in MDU environments.

Windstream, for one, began a field trial of G.fast targeting multi-dwelling units (MDUs) in Lincoln, Nebraska, with the aim of leveraging existing copper to deliver up to 1 Gbps speeds to customers. Similar to CenturyLink, Windstream will focus on delivering G.fast to MDUs.

Meanwhile, AT&T which also sees G.fast as a way to minimize customer disruption in MDUs, is currently conducting lab trials of the technology.

For more:
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