Mid-Atlantic regional carrier Lumos Networks, based in Waynesboro, Va, has offered wireless backhaul services for many years. But its growing importance on Lumos’ top line revenue and bottom line profitability, combined with evolving wireless carrier requirements, has caused Lumos to reset their wireless backhaul strategy and embark on a new approach they have code named Project Ark. The ambitious project will leverage a Metro Ethernet Forum CE 2.0 certified MPLS/IP fiber network utilizing Cisco gear.
Fiber-to-the-Cell Tower (FTTC) is a renewed focus for Lumos and Project Ark aims to position them as a market leader well into the future. “It’s a land grab of sorts,” said Lumos Networks CTO Craig Drinkhall in an interview, describing the growing Carrier Ethernet FTTC opportunity he sees for the regional carrier. Major cities are already very competitive, but Drinkhall says Ark will allow Lumos to get to towers outside of major markets with FTTC first, many of which are still served by copper. “4G is coming to those towers too, if it isn’t there already” he said.
Lumos operates a 7,414 route-mile fiber network across several Mid-Atlantic states including Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and parts of Ohio and North Carolina. They currently offer wholesale, enterprise, SMB and residential services, but sees data and wholesale services as their main market focus for the future.
Lumos currently has 608 cell towers and 1,344 buildings on-net. With Project Ark they aim to reach 1,500 towers in the mid-term, with potentially 4,000 in reach over the long term. The network is fully redundant with at least two of everything to ensure QoS and service level agreements can be maintained for demanding wireless carrier requirements. The project name Ark is a nod to the ‘two of everything’ which Drinkhall says ensures “…there is no single point of failure.” There is two of everything for the network, including two separate fibers in different sheaves, and even a secondary NOC in case the first one fails.
With Project Ark, Lumos will be able to deliver up to 400 Mbps per tower, generating up to $4K/month. In aggregate, Project Ark will be able to handle up to 1 terabyte of data throughput. Drinkhall says evolving requirements from wireless carriers which include “…tight requirements for performance, throughput, no jitter, and re-routing of circuits capability” helped drive their decision to “start fresh and build it exactly as we wanted” with Ark.
“Wireless carriers are not just buying access to one tower at a time; they want multiple tower access,” said Drinkhall. “These capabilities won’t guarantee that wireless carriers pick you, but not having these capabilities certainly will eliminate you as an option.”
Cisco’s ASR 9912 routers, the foundation of the new FTTC network, will be deployed in Ashburn, Va, Pittsburgh, Pa, Roanoke, Va and Charleston, WVa. Lumos hopes to have Ark completed by the end of 3Q 2014 and plans to start migrating customers over in 2015. Ark will also be leveraged for enterprise opportunities.
Data and Wholesale Future
Lumos Networks has changed dramatically from its independent telco legacy. A wireless operation, nTelos, was spun off as a separate company years ago and Lumos began a transformation to a data focused company, not unlike many larger carriers undergoing similiar transitions of their own.
As of 4Q13, data services comprised 61% ($31.2M) of total quarterly revenues ($51M), contributing 58.2% of adjusted EBITDA for the quarter. Lumos aims to grow that data revenue ratio to 80% over the long term, with 10% – 15% annual growth. With FTTC services as its fastest growing business segment, Lumos expects Ark to be a significant contributor to these revenue and profit goals.