Jeff Small, president of Windstream’s Kinetic business, offered a glimpse at the company’s ambitions for 2022, telling Fierce it already covers about 20% of its 18 state footprint with fiber and plans to address another 10% this year.
All told, Small said Windstream expects to build fiber to 400,000 new locations across 100 communities in 2022. It expects to run at a similar, if slightly slower, pace in the subsequent three years as well, he added. The work is part of a previously announced five-year project to deliver gigabit capabilities to a total of 2 million locations. In addition to its five-year build, Small said Windstream is looking to expand its footprint further through public-private partnership opportunities.
“It’s a pretty spread out offering and our intent is to try to address as much of our footprint as we can,” Small said. “It does make sense for us to address our footprint broadly because it helps us to execute those builds as we kind of evenly distribute them across our footprint.”
All of the fiber builds it executed in 2021 used XGS-PON technology, with Small stating it will continue to use XGS-PON until a better option is available.
Small noted Windstream serves a lot of rural areas, and said its gigabit service tier is resonating with customers, achieving a 30% to 40% take rate where available. According to the company’s Q3 update, approximately 18% of its footprint had access to speeds of 1 Gbps as of September 30, 2021. Windstream hasn’t yet released its Q4 report.
He added a move to rollout multi-gig service is on the horizon, with Windstream planning to introduce a 2 Gbps tier this year.
But the company isn’t just laying fiber for residential service. Buddy Bayer, Windstream’s chief network officer, told Fierce the company has nearly 2,000 route miles of fiber overbuilds or new construction planned for 2022 to fuel growth of its Intelligent Converged Optical Network (ICON).
Rolled out in mid-2021, ICON is an open, converged and disaggregated network architecture that incorporates deep analytics to provide additional value to customers. Bayer said Windstream has been hard at work implementing ICON across both its long-haul infrastructure as well as at the edge.
To date, ICON has been deployed across approximately half of Windstream’s long-haul network: about 5-10% of that using Ciena’s Reconfigurable Line System and 40-45% using an upgraded version of Infinera’s Flex line system. Windstream is aiming to deploy ICON across another 10-15% of its long-haul network this year, Bayer said.
In terms of ICON at the edge, Bayer said Windstream issued a request for proposals in 2021 and is still reviewing submissions. It expects to make awards in the first half of this year and start work in the back half of 2022.
Bayer explained that ICON is key to its wholesale strategy because its disaggregated nature allows Windstream to move faster than competitors and more easily work around supply chain issues by partnering with multiple vendors. For instance, it can proactively stock up on coherent pluggables and keep them on hand, allowing it to turn up service quickly when a customer needs it.
He highlighted one recent instance where a customer was looking for 2 TB of capacity to be turned up within two weeks. Windstream was able to get the job done in less than five days, he said. In another instance it was able to light up 5 TB of capacity in 30 days.
“We do that because we keep inventory on hand, we have an architecture and a system that’s easy to operate, we have systems and tools that we’ve put in place that allow us to move quickly, we can transfer information internally extremely fast,” Bayer said. “In the timeframe it took for us to quote it [the 2 TB job] and turn it up, one of their requests to our competition they didn’t even get the inquiry back on how long it would take. That’s how different this is in the marketplace.”
Bayer said it’s on track to finish implementing ICON across its network within a five-year timeframe.
In 2022, he added the wholesale division will focus on growth in the government, large enterprise and international segments.