Windstream officially launched its 1 Gbps FTTH service in four market areas serving about 35,000 residential and small business customers, including Lincoln, Neb., Lexington, Ky., Sugar Land, Texas, and seven North Carolina communities.
Communities in the North Carolina market include China Grove, Concord, Davidson, Harrisburg, Kannapolis, Lewisville and Matthews.
In December 2015, the service provider began its 1 Gbps FTTH trial in Lexington, Ky., marking the first step of its plans to launch the service in five markets.
Following the trial, Windstream plans to conduct a broader 1 Gbps rollout to follow in 2016 in markets where it has previously built fiber to homes. A key focus of the rollout will be to leverage and extend existing fiber network facilities already present.
Having already built out fiber for business customers and into newer neighborhood housing developments in recent years, being able to provide 1 Gbps leverages and extends these existing facilities.
As a result of its ongoing fiber investment, which calls to also drive fiber to existing Remote Terminal DSLAM sites, the service provider can deliver up to 50-100 Mbps Internet service, Windstream's IPTV Kinetic in select cities, and now 1-Gig Internet service.
"This is part of our overall network modernization effort to continue to deploy faster speed profiles to as many households across our footprint," said Sarah Day, president of consumer and small business for Windstream in an interview with FierceTelecom. "We've been active in the market with our 50-100 Mbps product and now today being able to leverage the fiber we deployed to the premise over the course of time has allowed us to expand that profile to 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps service."
In marketing the 1 Gbps and 300 Mbps services to users, the service provider will take a three pronged approach. Potential users can go to the Windstream website and enter their address to see if they qualify for service. Windstream will also market the service by talking to residents and business directly at their premises or at their local retail stores.
"If you're in one of these communities and you go onto our website you can type in your address and we'll be able to demonstrate your qualification," Day said. "There will also be a lot of outbound marketing and sales efforts to let people know that we have deployed fiber and that their home is 1 Gbps addressable, which will be a combination of marketing deployments in a very targeted fashion through direct mail and outbound telemarketing as well as door to door activity where we're able to let the neighborhood to alert we are able to deploy fiber to their area."
Day said that as it rolls out 1 Gbps to more homes, "you'll see more awareness driving tactics on the website where we speak to next neighborhood deployments."
Pricing for the 1 Gbps Internet service is competitive at $85 to $99 a month.
Like other service providers, Windstream said it also is seeing the so-called "halo effect" where the introduction of 1 Gbps speeds is making more subscribers aware that the telco has a range of speeds they could not get before. While not every subscriber wants a 1 Gbps connection, Windstream is seeing others express interest in purchasing a 50 or 100 Mbps product.
"We have put a lot of effort around our faster speed offerings on the 50-100 Mbps tier and even with that we have seen greater adoption of speeds north of 10 Mbps," Day said. "We have that benefit that's already happening by talking about speed and demonstrating a capability to get into the higher speed tiers and see that tide lifting all boats and more consumers buying in the 20-25 Mbps range."
Day said that while most users won't need or want a 1 Gbps service, it could give new and existing subscribers comfort that they have more options that what Windstream could offer before.
"In practical terms, there's no real need for 1 Gbps service at a house," Day said. "Again, the more that you can say that capability exists and the customer can have complete piece of mind that they have no restraint ever or knowing that we can go that high gives us an opportunity to talk about 300 Mbps, 100 Mbps or the more practical speed tiers in the near-term."
One application that could benefit from the 1 Gbps speeds will be the ongoing roll out of its Kinetic IPTV service. Currently, Windstream offers Kinetic in three markets: Lexington, Ky., Lincoln, Neb., and Sugar Land, Texas.
"We have fiber and Kinetic being deployed in Sugar Land right now so we have the opportunity to deploy the IPTV service over the 1 Gbps connections, which is delivering a much superior experience as it relates to HD streams and the ability to find a better balance between the Internet product and the entertainment product," Day said. "One of the challenges going forward is that consumers have such bandwidth demand as it relates to devices and when you add TV on top of the connection they want to have HD streams to support their viewing habits and a stable and robust Internet connection to support the devices they are using simultaneously."
But consumers are just one beneficiary of the 1 Gbps service. Like other service providers, Windstream's fiber can also be used to address local small businesses along the path of the fiber.
Day said the service will also be applicable to SMBs that can't afford dedicated large Ethernet circuits but have outgrown DSL and T-1.
"Small businesses are caught between products right now," Day said. "Small businesses have demand for an Internet product that is superior to some of the entry speeds we traditionally offered, but are not in a position to buy dedicated circuits that are traditionally offered in the business space."
In November, the service provider announced it would expand the availability of 100 Mbps services over its copper network leveraging VDSL2 to over 800 markets, and Project Excel, a $250 million program that will accelerate further upgrades of broadband speeds in more markets.
The program upgrades its fiber-fed DSLAM infrastructure with VDSL2-capable equipment to deliver the higher speeds and a more robust backhaul network.
As it expands higher speeds, Windstream hopes to turn around its slumping broadband subscriber base.
During the fourth quarter of 2015, Windstream reported that it lost 14,500 subscribers, ending the period with a total of 1.1 million customers, down from the 1.13 million broadband subscribers it had in the same period a year ago.
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