CenturyLink’s G.fast deployment is a credible response to cable’s gigabit strategy

CenturyLink is igniting G.fast in the U.S., announcing this week that it equipped 44 multi-dwelling units (MDUs) in Platteville, Wisconsin, with 500 Mbps service. The technology gives it a weapon to challenge the cable industry’s 1 gig business service threats without a fiber upgrade.

Much like its first 1 Gbps rollout in Omaha, Nebraska, CenturyLink replaced an aging HFC network it operated in Platteville with FTTH. Since the service provider could not reach every location with fiber -- particularly in buildings where owners wanted to avoid disruption to tenants -- G.fast fits the bill by enabling the telco to use each building's coax to deliver up to 500 Mbps. 

G.fast will be a key tool CenturyLink will use to meet its broadband expansion goals. At the end of 2018, CenturyLink expects to have 10.5 million or over 85 percent of addressable broadband-enabled units at 40 Mbps or higher speeds in its top 25 markets. Additionally, the telco said it will have 7 million or over 55 percent of addressable broadband-enabled units at 100 Mbps or higher.

CenturyLink’s broadband goals emerge as cable operators are stepping up their 1 Gbps push via DOCSIS 3.1 and FTTH.

Cox has rolled 1 Gbps to the middle Georgia market, while Comcast has begun delivering DOCSIS 3.1 internet service for residential and business customers in Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Detroit and Miami. Meanwhile, Charter agreed to deliver fiber-based services to 2 million homes as part of its agreement with the FCC to get its acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House.

Not to be outdone is Altice USA, which through its acquisition of Suddenlink plans to bring 1 Gbps service to 250 communities in the Suddenlink territories via its Operation GigaSpeed initiative.

With consolidation of the cable industry creating larger threats in the business and consumer broadband sector, time is of the essence for CenturyLink. By using G.fast, CenturyLink creates a future-proofed method to battle cable operators on two fronts: deliver higher consumer broadband and extend Ethernet to more businesses. Additionally, future iterations of G.fast like XG-FAST allow telcos to achieve 10/1 Gbps speeds.

“It certainly gives telcos the ability to counter the ultra-broadband (including gigabit) marketing claims of cable operators, without having to invest in a full FTTH upgrade,” said Erik Keith, principal analyst for broadband networks and multi-play services for Current Analysis, in an interview with FierceTelecom. “Actually, for many operators, G.fast will be beyond near-term, i.e., giving them a mid- to long-term ability to deliver ultra-broadband for up to a decade (assuming they can offer Gigabit services). In fact, G.fast and XG-FAST will enable telcos to beat both the DOCSIS 3.1 proposition (10 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps upstream per node).”

Countering cable’s business threats

While G.fast will initially impact consumer services, the technology gives CenturyLink a means to stay on pace with cable’s disruption in the business services market.

One of the key trends making cable more powerful is rapid consolidation. After completing its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Communications, Charter Communications surpassed Verizon as the third largest U.S.-based Ethernet provider.

But fellow cable MSO Comcast is being no less aggressive on the business front either, reporting in the second quarter that revenue rose 17 percent to $1.4 billion.

By using G.fast, CenturyLink can complement its ongoing fiber-based Ethernet play in buildings where it could not build a business case for fiber, yet needs to meet the higher speed requirements of its small and medium business customers.

“It gives us some advantages when we start talking about business multi-tenant units,” said Curt Frankenfeld, director of access strategy development for CenturyLink, in an interview with FierceTelecom. “It gives us the capability of supporting very high symmetric speeds that our business customers want and we don’t have to rewire the building.”

Gaining credibility

At only 44 MDUs, the Platteville deployment is small, but it provides real-world credibility for G.fast. What’s more, the service provider has paying customers on the G.fast network and is likely planning on a broader expansion in other markets.  

“The CenturyLink deployment gives G.fast credibility, as it is a commercial implementation -- not a trial, as we have heard about so often,” Keith said. “Although relatively small at present, the Wisconsin G.fast deployment is likely to be the first of many for CenturyLink and for U.S. operators, many of which still cannot afford mass market FTTH upgrades, but are willing to invest in deeper fiber buildouts leveraged in combination with FTTdp/last amplifier technologies such as G.fast.”

Jason Blackwell, director of service provider strategies for Strategy Analytics, agreed, adding that it will help CenturyLink extend IPTV to additional customers.

“I do think that the credibility for G.fast has been greatly enhanced by the trials and deployments by telcos including CenturyLink and BT,” Blackwell said. “There is strong pressure from cable competitors with increased broadband speeds, and G.fast should help the Telcos deliver competitive services, especially in the MDU environment in US cities. CenturyLink should also be able to take advantage of these increased speeds and potentially expand the availability of its Prism TV service to more households.”

CenturyLink is hardly alone as fellow telcos AT&T and Windstream are moving ahead with G.fast. AT&T said it is evaluating G.fast in various markets to address MDUs, noting that there are speed challenges at distances over 800 feet. Likewise, Windstream recently announced a G.fast market trial in Lincoln, Nebraska, targeting MDUs.

Being one of the largest U.S.-based telcos, CenturyLink’s deployment and expansion plans for G.fast technology like G.fast is important as other large telcos eye large-scale deployments in their own territories.--Sean