1. Fairpoint Exec Touts Carrier Ethernet Backhaul Successes

    CEN Feature (Jan 24 2013)

    1. Fairpoint Exec Touts Carrier Ethernet Backhaul Successes

      As we’ve noted in previous posts, mobile backhaul based on Carrier Ethernet is an excellent opportunity for incumbent local telcos, enabling those that don’t have a mobile business to participate in the mobile data boom.

      No incumbent carrier seems to be taking that opportunity more seriously than Fairpoint Communications, as I learned from a recent interview with Fairpoint Vice President of Wholesale Sales Michelle Hymson.

      “We’re one of the best performers at meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations,” said Hymson. “It’s all about execution. Everybody has the opportunity but not everyone will do the best job executing on that opportunity.”

      At last count, Fairpoint had deployed Carrier Ethernet to more than 800 cell towers within its northern New England footprint with plans to expand that to at least 950 in 2013. The company expects its Carrier Ethernet mobile backhaul business to increase by more than 39% in 2013.

      “In the last 24 months we have been identifying in a priority manner the towers where wireless carriers” will need Carrier Ethernet to support LTE services, explained Hymson.  As it deploys Carrier Ethernet, Fairpoint brings fiber to any cell sites that don’t already have it.

      “Our build-outs are planned based on contracted opportunities,” Hymson added. “The business case is founded in initial capacity needs. . . We feel very comfortable with our investment, even at initial capacity requirements.”

      In some cases investment is planned when one initial carrier customer requests high-speed Carrier Ethernet connectivity, enhancing the profitability of future bandwidth upgrades or when additional carriers opt to use the same tower.

      “The deals become more and more attractive as time goes on,” noted Hymson. “We’re looking at 2013 and 2014 with smiles on our faces.”

      Carriers typically start their Carrier Ethernet backhaul roll-outs with 100 Mbps connectivity to a cell tower, although some start as low as 50 Mbps and others go as high as 200 Mbps, Hymson said. When higher speeds are needed, upgrades typically can be made through a software change. “It’s much more seamless and the interval is shorter than it would be with DS-1s or DS-3s, said Hymson.

      Hymson noted that some carriers already have upgraded their bandwidth and that Fairpoint is eyeing towers where Carrier Ethernet was initially implemented 12 to 18 months ago as candidates for bandwidth upgrades this year.

      The company also is gearing up to support small cells. Although traditional macrocells will continue to be the priority for now, Hymson expects to see significant demand for small cells over the next 12 to 24 months.

      Small cells are an “exciting” opportunity for Fairpoint because the company has a dense fiber footprint, simplifying the task of bringing Carrier Ethernet to small cells located on lamp posts and the like.

      Because of the relatively low populations in northern New England markets, those markets typically are among the later ones that wireless carriers target for new technology deployments – and Fairpoint has been able to use that to its advantage, Hymson said.

      “We try to make that an advantage and to learn and be prepared when the opportunity comes to us,” said Hymson. “By the time [carriers] get to our market, they’ve suffered mis-steps in larger markets. That also means we need to step up our game. We have a higher bar to meet on our first customer than those who serve larger markets.”

      Upgrading connections to cell towers to support high-speed Carrier Ethernet was in many ways a defensive move for Fairpoint. Before upgrading to Carrier Ethernet, many wireless carriers rely on T-1 connections from Fairpoint for cell tower connectivity – which means that if Fairpoint did not upgrade those towers to Carrier Ethernet, another carrier could come in, potentially blocking Fairpoint from offering T-1 or Carrier Ethernet to that customer.

      Hymson parried a question about whether wireless carriers are asking for any special Carrier Ethernet capabilities in preparation for deploying voice over LTE.

      “Each of our carriers has unique requirements for the network, be they jumbo cell requirements,  special SLAs or configurations at the tower, and that’s one of the things that raises the value of Fairpoint to these carriers,” said Hymson.

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