Fierce Independents: Comanche Telephone unclogs its backhaul bottlenecks

Located in DeLeon, Texas, Comanche County Telephone Company (CCTC) may not be your household name service provider, yet the service provider is seeing robust demand for residential and business broadband services. Once known as the DeLeon Telephone Company, CCTC had a 15-year stint as part of the former Bell System after it was sold to the former Southwestern Bell (now AT&T) in 1929. As its subscriber base demands more broadband services, the company's backhaul network became a bottleneck so CCTC adopted an Ethernet-based network. We caught up with Steve Baker, director of network operations at Comanche, to talk about migrating to an Ethernet-enabled backhaul network and the challenges of being a rural ILEC.

Fierce Telecom: Comanche is an independent operator with properties in Texas and Oklahoma that recently upgraded the backhaul segment of your access network with Ethernet. What drove you to consider Ethernet?

Baker: We started out with AFC (now Tellabs) products offering DSL in our small towns. We have one large town, which is kind of a hub; we actually have a tandem switch there. Our bottlenecks were coming into our towns. We would have 100 customers working off of one T1 out there, and our subscription rate was terrible. I looked at several platforms and we teamed up with Tellabs. We put GigE backhauls in all of our 1000 Multi-service access platform (MSAP) products in our towns and connected them with fiber to future-proof the network. I think that will last at least until I retire. We erased that bottleneck going into our towns-that was our main problem. Now we're focusing more on getting bandwidth into our rural areas out of the towns.

We're putting in 1000s and running fiber to them if we can, and if we can't, we'll put in Inverse Multiplexing over ATM (IMA) groups. We have the Tellabs' 7345 to aggregate the GigE connections coming in from all the towns. It's taking a load off our routers by going to pure IP instead of ATM. Instead of having to put VCCs and do all that routing to our routers coming in over T1s, the 7345 can do some of that switching. We try to use different VLANs for all of our different towns and separate them there instead of at the router.

Fierce Telecom: Talk a bit about your last mile broadband deployment strategy. Up till now, were you just deploying basic ADSL or a mix of ADSL and ADSL2+?

Baker: We had pretty much G.lite everywhere. When we made the transition to GigE, we went to ADSL2+. Then we had the Telliant 5000 platform in our main town (DeLeon) and we changed it out with a Tellabs 1150 with VDSL. In our main town we now have VDSL. I only live a couple of blocks from the office and I have 25 Mbps at my house.

Fierce Telecom: How has DSL and overall broadband network technology evolved and improved over the years for Comanche?

Baker: I guess speed is the main thing. We went from offering a maximum of 768 Kbps, and it wasn't more than two years ago that our main subscription rate was 192 Kbps. Now, our bottom is 768 Kbps, and we can offer up to 6 Mbps. We're getting requests for Ethernet services from hospitals and schools.

FierceTelecom: So you're starting to see higher bandwidth demands from your overall business customer base and what are their requirements?

Typically, most customers want more bandwidth for fewer dollars. You try to sell them 6 Mbps DSL service when they want 10 Mbps Ethernet circuit for the same price. With some of the money factored into what we can charge, we are finding that sometimes Ethernet can be cheaper to provide than high-rate DSL. It looks like that's where the trend's going to us: more business customers are going to want Ethernet instead of DSL.

Fierce Telecom: Although Ethernet is a 30-plus year old technology, how has it evolved to meet your needs as a service provider in terms of reliability and speed?

Baker: I believe since we erased our bottlenecks, our reliability has gone up especially since we put in more fiber. As you know, fiber is going to be more reliable than putting in T1s out there. Our reliability has gone up. Our customers are happier because they are getting better speeds and are being more productive. It's a win-win for everybody.

Fierce Telecom: In addition to injecting your network with Ethernet capabilities, you mentioned you expanded your fiber backhaul network. What benefits does more fiber bring to an independent telco like Comanche?

Baker: Yes. We also had DLCs that we connected with fiber to get the bandwidth up out in the rural areas.

FierceTelecom: Speaking of fiber, are you looking at any Fiber to the premises projects?

Baker: We haven't gone down that path yet, and right now we don't have any plans to. We're working with 32 percent take rate and it's going up. You know the story of the rural telephone company has gone from losing lines to picking up broadband.