CFU logoThe latest entity to offer gigabit service is a community owned network in Cedar Falls, Iowa that is managed by Cedar Falls Utilities.  That organization also manages municipally-owned electricity, water and natural gas utilities, explained Betty Zeman, marketing manager for Cedar Falls Utilities, in an interview.

The Cedar Falls network is different from gigabit networks in some other communities in that service in most cases can be turned up immediately, said Zeman. “We’re in almost every property in town with an ONT [optical network terminal] already,” she explained.

The new Cedar Falls gigabit network traces back to a hybrid-fiber coax network originally constructed in the 1990s with funding raised through a referendum.

“There were a number of leaders in the community who were concerned that the incumbent telephone and cable companies weren’t going to upgrade their systems to allow for [broadband] any time soon,” said Zeman.

In 2010, construction was begun on a fiber-to-the-premises network that now covers the entire community and has virtually replaced the HFC network. Video service is now delivered over the FTTP platform using RF over glass (RFOG) technology and the community currently has fewer than 50 customers who still use cable modems for Internet connectivity.

The FTTP network, based on equipment from Motorola and Calix, uses gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technology. In the Cedar Falls deployment, the GPON equipment has been configured to support service at speeds of up to 1 Gbps downstream and 500 Mbps upstream.

The network has a high take rate, with 80% of residential customers and 90% of business customers already getting service from Cedar Falls Utilities. Accordingly most customers already have an ONT in their home or business. When any of those customers place an order for gigabit service, the order triggers an automatic process that upgrades service almost immediately and does not require technician intervention, explained Rob Houlihan, network manager for Cedar Falls Utilities.

For locations that don’t currently take service from Cedar Falls Utilities, service can’t be turned up immediately. But when Cedar Falls Utilities did the initial GPON installation, technicians brought a drop to virtually every home or business, so all that is needed to support service is to add the ONT.

Zeman noted that there also are some multi-tenant buildings where Cedar Falls Utilities is prohibited from offering service because a competitive carrier has an exclusive agreement to provide service there.

The technology
The Cedar Falls Utilities GPON network uses a 1:32 splitter ratio, with a 2.4 Gbps downstream/ 1.2 Gbps upstream fiber link shared between 32 customers. If every customer were to take the 1 Gbps service, theoretically the total capacity required would exceed what the network could deliver. But telecom networks are designed under the assumption that not all customers require full network capacity at the same time and Houlihan doesn’t believe there would be a problem even if all all 32 customers on the same PON were to take gigabit service.

“The oversubscription ratio is one-third of the oversubscription ratio of our old cable system, which was indicative of most cable systems,” said Houlihan.

Nevertheless, Cedar Falls Utilities is planning for the possibility that eventually it may need to reduce the number of homes that share a single 2.4/ 1.2 Gbps fiber by 50% or more, Houlihan said.

It would appear unlikely that customers will max out any time soon, however, as the 1 Gbps service isn’t cheap. The cost to residential customers is $275 per month and for business customers the monthly cost is $950.

Zeman noted that Cedar Falls Utilities’ most popular speed is 16 Mbps downstream and 8 Mbps upstream, which costs about $40 a month. Lower speed plans are available for as little as $30 per month.

The GPON upgrade was funded in part through revenues and in part through utility revenue bonds, Zeman said.

Zeman believes Cedar Falls is well positioned to attract and retain businesses, in part because of its excellent broadband connectivity and in part because the community offers attractive electric, water and natural gas service and has pre-developed industrial land available.

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