Stealth CEO: Asymmetric broadband speeds cause strain during work from home efforts

With millions of employees now working from home due to COVID-19, asymmetric broadband offerings are a chokepoint for some business applications.

Shrihari Pandit, the CEO of Stealth Communications, said in a recent interview with FierceTelecom that in addition to slower upstream speeds on DSL or cable broadband services, work from home (WFH) efforts have also been hampered by multiple users in a household using a single broadband connection for gaming, video streaming, video conferencing and remote learning.

"We're seeing businesses making more employees work from home. So that's been a major trend in our customer base," said Pandit, whose company provides fiber-based connectivity in the New York Cit metro area. "What we've seen is some difficulty in terms of making that successful. When they work from home, they try to run all their work applications.

"What the corporate IT departments are finding as they start troubleshooting is that home connections are mostly asymmetric and that's creating a strain, because a lot of these business applications require symmetrical connectivity."

With asymmetric connections, which are typically slower on the upstream than on the downstream, WFH employees have found that their workloads and applications are taking longer to load into a cloud or their office environment, according to Pandit.

"You have inconsistent performance, things like latency and jitter, with huge variables and that's creating major problems," Pandit said.

While Stealth Communications, which was founded in 1995, only serves business customers in the New York City area, Pandit said his company has seen a 32% increase in traffic to its cloud providers (Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud) due to the impact of COVID-19. Businesses and their employees are moving more of their applications into the cloud during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Roughly half of our business customers had an increase in their inbound traffic, likely attributed to WFH employees," he said. "When averaging that out (it) comes in at a 19% increase in inbound traffic to the business corporate offices.”

According to a speed test site, Stealth Communications has the fastest broadband service in the New York City boroughs that it serves. With its fiber network, Stealth can clock speeds of up to 3.7 Gbps on the downstream and upstream speeds of around 3.2 Gbps. Pandit said Stealth's closest competitor has downstream speeds of around 800 Mbps to 900 Mbps.

Pandit contends that Stealth's competitors, including Charter Communications, Verizon and RCN, are largely relying on coaxial cable or copper to deliver their services in New York City.

"So the cable companies are predominately coaxial based," Pandit said. "I'm sure if you speak to any Spectrum customer they have a very frustrating experience because coax is not able to keep up with the demand today's internet needs.

"Then obviously you have Verizon DSL, but that's being kind of eliminated as the copper plants are being decommissioned over the last 10 years. Then you have Verizon FioS and the deployment for FioS isn't widely available in the city as it's made out to be."

While cable operators have been installing "tons of fiber" in New York City, Pandit said it would take some time to get the fiber closer to the nodes, which is known as fiber deep, and then migrate the coaxial connections to the fiber.

According to a spokesperson from Charter, the cable operator offers 1 Gig speeds across its New York City footprint, and has a 10-Gig service in place for enterprise customers. The cable industry has been clearing headroom for faster DOCSIS-based broadband speeds on the upstream, and is also working on its 10G initiative.

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But as everyone knows, a pure fiber play trumps other broadband technologies, and Stealth has more than 76 route miles of fiber and 26,000 feet of conduit across Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Pandit said Verizon and Charter cherry pick large enterprise buildings with their fiber services, which leaves thousands of small to medium sized buildings for Stealth to target.

Stealth's in-house expertise lowers capex

Stealth was granted its franchise by New York City in 2013, which authorized the company to install fiber optic cables throughout the city's public right-of-way. Pandit said that Stealth uses its own employees to install the fiber.

"There are a lot of telecommunications companies in New York City, but there's only a handful of companies that actually have cable in the ground," he said. "We have in-house employees that basically trench the roadways and put in the conduit, and we have employees who pull the fiber cables through, splice it in the streets and bring them into commercial buildings and into the offices.

"Then we have some secondary services, transparent LAN services, which is really point-to-point Ethernet service. We have Ethernet connectivity from offices into the cloud providers and dark fiber for the more sophisticated organizations, but all the services are centered around connectivity."

Stealth employs passive wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) wavelengths, which allows each business in a building to get its own wavelength. Pandit said it doesn't require any electronic installation in the buildings in order to deliver the service.

"That means we have reduced capital to deliver the service," he said. "It provides greater performance at a reduced cost. When we speak with customers, they ask us how are we able to deliver these dedicated services at half the cost of the competition?  It's really because we do the work in house and we don't have any capital expenses in terms of deploying expensive electronics in the building's basement to deliver this service."

Pandit said he works with vendors in the supply chain to source his own fiber elements such as wafers, photonic chips, and the molding that goes into the streets or buildings.

"The technology, the methodology that we employ, isn't available commercially," he said.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pandit said that initially Stealth was doing more work in the evenings, but as stay at home policies took hold in New York City his crews were able to do their installs in the daytime since the buildings were typically down to a security guard.

"We're still doing roadway construction," he said. "Right now we're prioritizing healthcare installations. We're doing a number of installations for different medical practices here in the city. A lot of them are struggling with having adequate broadband services in order to support their telemedicine activities.

"For example, we're doing construction down in the Chinatown area to install new conduits to support fiber optic connections and we're doing a number of stations up in Midtown to support a lot of telemedicine activities."