ohio+rural broadbandA privately funded network operator based in Ohio is betting that it can build a business case for an open access broadband network serving rural areas throughout the state. The company, Agile Networks, has taken care to build a network that will meet the needs of a range of users, including public safety and utilities planning to deploy smart grid technology as well as businesses and residences.

“Very seldom does anybody take a look at  what is the broad spectrum of users and how can we leverage an infrastructure that will serve all those needs in a manner cost-effective enough that we can carry it out to the rural marketplace,” said Kyle Quillen, Agile’s chief technology officer, in an interview. “By implementing a fiber/wireless hybrid infrastructure we’re closing that gap.”

Agile Networks plans to use fiber to interconnect a series microwave rings which, in turn, will feed point-to-multipoint and point-to-point wireless connections to end users at speeds between 1 Mbps and 1 Gbps. Where feasible the company expects other service providers to step in to serve end users, buying bandwidth on a wholesale basis from Agile Networks. But in some of the most remote areas, the company believes it will need to sell directly to end users because no one else will want to. Individual microwave rings in some cases will serve unincorporated areas with fewer than a thousand residents, Quillen said.

Another interesting aspect of the project – and one that will help minimize costs – is that Agile Networks plans to use existing public safety network tower infrastructure for some of its equipment. This is an idea that Quillen previously used when he was CTO for Lightspeed, a wireless ISP since acquired by Omnicity that several years ago brought broadband to rural Coshocton County, Ohio using wireless equipment from Motorola. Utility company towers also were part of that deployment but are not part of the new project – at least not at this time.

The project, expected to be completed within 18 months, ultimately hopes to reach three million Ohio addresses, including 100,000 that do not currently have broadband access. Initial construction will include unserved and underserved areas in southeastern Ohio, as well as five Ohio cities, including Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo. Quillen declined to say what sorts of customers he expects to serve in the larger markets, but I suspect the metro networks may be there largely to support connectivity to data centers and Internet points of presence and other locations that the rural communities will want to reach.

Quillen is quick to tout the high quality of the service that Agile Networks will provide – including support for service level agreements all the way to the end user. The network will be low-latency and will have a high level of redundancy, said Quillen, adding, “We’re convinced from the conversations we’ve had that the network will exceed the expectations of all of the entities that want to buy services from us.”

Collaboration with potential network users, in combination with the latest wireless technology, will make the statewide Ohio network profitable, Quillen said.

“We’re building a network across Ohio that’s basically a big pipe,” said Quillen. “All the verticals we’re going after will benefit from decreases in cost and increases in reliability.” He noted, for example, that companies currently on leased lines may opt to move to the new network, which will support Ethernet services.

Agile Networks has not announced plans for specific utilities or public safety entities to use the network. Chesapeake Energy was on hand for an announcement of the new network at Agile Networks headquarters in Canton this week. But as Quillen explained, “They were there to talk about how they need connectivity and do not have it in Southeast Ohio. It is possible that they will use the system but nothing has been agreed to yet.”

Agile Networks plans to use Tellabs switching equipment but other vendors have not yet been announced. The company’s wireless plans include a combination of licensed and unlicensed spectrum, Quillen said.

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