Corning builds new optical cable plant supported by AT&T

Corning today said it will build a new factory in Gilbert, Arizona, to manufacture optical cable. This is the resin cables and technology, which protect and organize the hair-thin strands of optical fiber that carry data.

Mike Bell, general manager of Corning Optical Communications,  has previously said that fiber optic cables are comprised of two parts: the resin cables and the fiber optics that go inside the resin cables. Often the two parts are manufactured in different places. The cables are quite heavy and need to serve regional areas in order to limit transportation costs. The fiber optics are much lighter-weight, and transportation costs aren’t as big a consideration.

In an email to Fierce Wireless, John McGirr, senior vice president and general manager for Corning Optical Fiber and Cable, said Corning currently manufactures its fiber optic cables at two sites in North Carolina.

There’s a huge demand for fiber optic cables in the U.S., especially since Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJ&A), which will inject about $65 billion to build fiber broadband connections in the country.

In its announcement today, Corning said it was building the new plant in Arizona “supported by AT&T and record industry broadband demand.”

Jeff Luong, AT&T President of Broadband Access & Adoption, said, “AT&T is the largest builder of fiber in the country right now.” He said a typical neighborhood is about 350 homes, and “we’re basically building a neighborhood per hour.”

In September 2021, Corning announced that it was working to support AT&T’s needs by investing $150 million in a new optical cable manufacturing plant in North Carolina.

Luong indicated it was important to have a Corning facility in the Western U.S. “Corning is our largest provider of fiber optic cabling,” he said. Although he added that AT&T uses a “diverse set of suppliers.”

Corning said its new facility in Arizona is its latest in a series of investments in fiber and cable manufacturing totaling more than $500 million since 2020.

The Arizona facility is expected to open in 2024.

Gary Bolton, president and CEO at the Fiber Broadband Association, said, “We are at the beginning of the largest fiber optics investment cycle in history as our nation works to build the critical broadband infrastructure of the future. Today’s announcement by Corning is significant for our industry as it helps address the record demand for optical cable. Importantly, the capacity being added by Corning will be in place in time to support network buildouts funded by the federal government’s $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.”

Mesa, Arizona

Separately, today AT&T announced that it is deploying fiber internet service to Mesa, Arizona, in the Greater Phoenix area, with service expected to be available to Mesa residents in 2023.

AT&T joins a crowded field of new fiber providers. Recently, the Mesa City Council accepted four companies: SiFi Networks, Google Fiber, Wyyerd and Generate Ubiquity to build new fiber broadband networks in the city.

Luong said, “The Mesa/Phoenix area is a great place to invest. It’s one of the largest, fastest growing metro areas in the country. We are not afraid of competition.”

He said the Mesa City Council has approved AT&T’s fiber build. AT&T is not disclosing the exact stage of progress of its build or whether it’s building an open-access architecture, in which other ISPs could use its fiber optic cables.

Luong said that AT&T already offers a business fiber service in the Mesa area, and it has a “robust wireless network” as well.

Training fiber workers

It’s great that the U.S. government will fund major fiber expansions in the country. But there is a big labor shortage, so who’s going to deploy all that fiber?

Corning and AT&T have created a program to train fiber optic technicians across the industry. They estimate the industry will need another 850,000 workers through 2025. The Fiber Optic Training Program created by Corning and AT&T is already offering its initial class in North Carolina, and the program aims to train 50,000 American workers over the next five years.

Luong stressed that the training course wants to include women as well as men, which would be a change from past practices. “We want to make sure we have the door wide open,” he said.